January 9, 2022: The Baptism of the Lord - Pastor’s Corner
After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Lk. 3:21-22)
This Sunday, the Christmas season comes to completion in the celebration of Christ’s Baptism. Now we customarily observe our own birthday with merry making and party, and since it’s perhaps the greatest birthday of all, the celebrations for Jesus’ birthday make it a particular time of family fun and festivity. So, for Catholics, Christmas is not just a day, but a two to three-week festival honoring the miracle of Emmanuel, God coming in the flesh. The feast of Jesus’ baptism connects us with this new relationship we have with God through His Son.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized? After all, John the Baptist preached and practiced baptism for those called to repent and be cleansed from sin. As the Son of God Jesus did not need to be baptized, and John recognizes that Jesus will transform his baptism of repentance: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In fact, in Matthew’s Gospel, John objects to Jesus’ request for baptism: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. (Matt 3:14-15) How are we to understand that Jesus’ baptism fulfills all righteousness?
First, Jesus’ baptism gives us an example to follow. If we want to follow Jesus, we are called to imitate his actions. Like the loving parent who does not need a bicycle with training wheels but uses them in order to teach their child to ride, so too even though he did not need to be cleansed from sin, Jesus asks John to baptize Him in order to show us how we might be freed from sin.
Second, Jesus’ moment of baptism reveals His relationship with the Father: And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Like a divine inauguration, as Jesus begins his public ministry, He is revealed as the anointed Son of God. And Christ’s willingness to be baptized reveals that it is precisely His obedience to the Father that is at the heart of His Gospel preaching and mission.
Third, Christ’s baptism transforms baptism itself. For it is not the waters of the Jordan that make Christ holy, rather it is Christ that makes the Jordan waters (and by extension all baptismal water) holy. Christ is baptized not for His sake but for ours. For it is through our baptism that we share in the same relationship Jesus has with His Father. By baptism we have new life in Christ: we become sons and daughters in the Son.
So we have reason to celebrate. But I wonder how many of us observe the anniversary of our baptisms? How many of us even know when we were baptized? Growing up, my parents made sure to honor the day of our baptism as a way of recognizing the gift of new life through the sacrament. Likewise, when I have the privilege of baptizing, I often tell parents to keep and treasure their child’s baptismal candle, especially on their anniversary. For when we remember the gift God gives us through the cleansing waters of baptism, we are reinvigorated in our faith. In fact, every time we say the Apostles Creed, we reaffirm the basics of our baptismal faith. Perhaps this weekend, we might take time to recite the prayer of Baptismal Renewal as a prayer which connects us with the first graces of our own baptism. The Baptismal Renewal is composed of a call (V) and response (R) which invites us to refresh our relationship with God and live that faith daily. On this baptism of the Lord, we give thanks for the best Christmas gift of all: the new life of grace that we have through our baptism.
Prayer of Baptismal Renewal
V. Do you reject Satan? R. I do.
V. And all his works? R. I do.
V. And all his empty promises? R. I do.
V. Do you believe in God the Father Almighty creator of heaven and earth? R. I do.
V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? R. I do.
V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting? R. I do.
V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever. R. Amen.
~ Fr. Michael