The Christmas season, celebrating the Self-revelation of God through Jesus, comes to an end with the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Christmas is the feast of God’s Self-revelation to the Jews, and the Epiphany celebrates God’s Self-revelation to the Gentiles. At his Baptism in the Jordan, Christ reveals himself to repentant sinners.
The Baptism of the Lord Jesus is the great event celebrated by the Eastern Churches on the Feast of Epiphany because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father. Following his 40 day fast in the wilderness under the instruction of the Holy Spirit and the triple, unsuccessful, temptation by Satan, it marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
This Sunday is like a bridge between two great cities. The liturgical season of Christmas comes to a conclusion with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord as well as the beginning of the Ordinary Time of the year. Through this Feast, the Church reminds us that Jesus was baptized with water and the Holy Spirit in order to bring healing and salvation to all nations.
In today’s first Reading from Isaiah, God extends a universal invitation to all of us. It is a special invitation to come to Christ, the living water. Christ is the living water in whose name we were Baptized. Through his own Baptism, he has sanctified our own water of Baptism.
Today’s invitation is special, because it is open to all nations, especially to those who are truly thirsty. It is for those who are truly open to the salvation that God offers through his son Jesus Christ. It is a call to accept God’s offer of salvation by believing in Jesus Christ, the living water.
In our second Reading, John calls our attention to the importance of believing in Jesus Christ. Most importantly, he highlighted three elements which bear witness to the Son ship of Christ: water, blood and spirit. Every day we are tainted both inwardly and outwardly by sin. In light of this, the water of Baptism which Christ brings continues to be efficacious in our lives.
Christ continues to regenerate us through the water of Baptism, through his precious blood and through the power of the Holy Spirit. This water and blood include all that is necessary for our salvation. All flows from Christ.
Through his water, our souls are washed and purified for eternal life in heaven. Through his blood, we are justified, reconciled, and presented to God as righteous. Through his Spirit, we are made strong for the battle of life. Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for us, that he might sanctify and cleanse us with the washing of water in Baptism, (Eph 5:25-27).
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus’ baptism by John, which highlights the core of our celebration, was a mystical experience that Jesus felt deep within his soul at the crucial turning point of his life. The opening of the heavens with the Holy Spirit descending as a dove upon Jesus, and the Voice declaring of Him, “This is My beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased,” are God’s revelation to mankind the Mystery that he is Triune. The presence of the Triune God at this Baptism reveals Jesus’ true identity and mission. The heavens’ opening also indicates that this was a moment of God’s powerful intervention in human history and in the life of his Son.
His baptism by John was a very important event in the life of Jesus. First, it was a moment of decision. It marked the end of Jesus’ private life which had prepared him for his public ministry. Second, it was a moment of identification with his people in their God-ward movement initiated by John the Baptist, (quality of a good leader). Third, it was a moment of approval. Jesus might have been waiting for a signal of approval from his Heavenly Father, and during his Baptism Jesus got this approval of himself as the Father’s “beloved Son.” Fourth, it was a moment of conviction. At this Baptism, Jesus received certainties, (assurances), from heaven about his identity and the nature of his mission:
Becoming the “suffering servant” of God, i.e., by the Cross.
Fifth, it was a moment of equipment. When He descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, (symbol of gentleness), the Holy Spirit equipped Jesus with the power of preaching the “Good News”, (that God is a loving Father, who wants to save all human beings from their sins through his Son Jesus).
The Church advises us that the Baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity and mission. First, it reminds us of who we are and whose we are. By Baptism we become the adoptive sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, heirs of Heaven, and temples of the Holy Spirit. We become incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made sharers in the priesthood of Christ, [CCC 1279]. Hence, “Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other Sacraments”, (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1213).
Jesus’ Baptism reminds us of our mission:
This is the day for us to remember the graces we have received in Baptism and to renew our Baptismal promises: on the day of our Baptism, as Pope St. John Paul II explains, “We were anointed with the Oil of Catechumens, the sign of Christ’s gentle strength, to fight against evil. Blessed water was poured over us, an effective sign of interior purification through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We were then anointed with Chrism to show that we were thus consecrated in the image of Jesus, the Father’s Anointed One. The candle lighted from the Paschal Candle was a symbol of the light of Faith which our parents and godparents must have continually safeguarded and nourished with the life-giving grace of the Spirit.”
This is also a day for us to renew our Baptismal promises, consecrating ourselves to the Holy Trinity and “rejecting Satan and all his empty promises,” which our profane world is constantly offering us through its mass-media of communication.
Let us ask Our Lord today to make us faithful to our Baptismal promises. Let us thank him for the privilege of being joined to his mission of preaching the “Good News” by our transparent Christian lives of love, mercy, service, and forgiveness.
Finally, today’s celebration affords us the opportunity to recommit ourselves to Christ in whose name we were Baptized. With joy let us draw living water from Christ, the well of salvation, (Is 2, 3).
Fr. Jude CSSp