Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord

The significance of his Baptism by John in the River Jordan is one of the mysteries of our Lord's life that is very often overlooked or underplayed. Our Eastern Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters refer to today's feast as the "Feast of the Holy Theophany." A "theophany" is when God manifests himself in a manner detectable by our senses.

It's easy to miss that in our Gospel for today's feast that, immediately following his baptism, Jesus is confirmed (Luke 3:15-16.21-22). Because he is the anointed One, the Messiah, Jesus is anointed directly by the Holy Spirit, who descended on him in the form of a dove, as the voice of the Father declares that he is the Father's beloved Son. This is the Theophany of the Most Holy Trinity, God making himself fully manifest for the first time in Scripture.

All four canonical Gospels agree that his baptism by John marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. I think that one reason why the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is so closely linked on the liturgical calendar to his Nativity (in the United States it brings the season of Christmas to its end) is because these events set in motion the Paschal Mystery, which is the very mystery of our redemption.

Our brothers and sisters who observe today's feast as the Theophany also see his baptism as making holy all the waters of the world. As we see in the blessing of water in our Roman Catholic baptismal rite, water is both necessary for life and, at times and under the right conditions, a deadly force.

In baptism God claimed you as his own. When you were baptized, you were called by name. Through baptism God made what was implicit in you explicit. In the waters of baptism we are reborn as God's children, which adoption is only made possible by Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As he ascended, the Lord sent his disciples (his sending is what made them apostles) to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in God's thrice holy name (Matt 28:16-20). It was on the first Christian Pentecost that 3,000 people were baptized in response to Peter's preaching (Acts 2:14-41). Such has been the case for more than 2,000 years. We, too, are sent to proclaim the Gospel, to glorify the Lord by our lives, to make disciples of all nations. In order to make disciples, you must first be a disciple.

In light of his own baptism, we certainly Jesus by receiving baptism ourselves. As I pondered today's feast, an event from Jesus' life popped into my mind is when Peter wanted to walk on water to the Lord, who was himself walking on the water (Matt 14:22-36). At the Lord's urging Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the water of the Sea of Galilee. But he lacked faith and so he sunk. As he sunk, Peter cried out "Lord, save me!" St Matthew tells us, "Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'" Who knows, perhaps that was Peter's baptism?

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