Baptism of the Lord A

Just this past week, the Pope began his weekly audience by asking how many people know the date of their baptism.  Not too many do, but he points out it is a day worth knowing and celebrating for it is a second birthday for all of us.  For those of us who do not know the date of our baptism though, we can celebrate it today, the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism.

It is a great feast and a curious scene.  It is a bit awkward between Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus asks John to baptize him and immediately John refuses saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”  After all, John is the forerunner and not the messiah, he is the proclaimer and not what is proclaimed, he is the Voice and not the Word.  He protests, you are the man.  The attention should be focused on you and your power.  Even the Gospel writers seemed a little embarrassed.  Matthew speaks in the muted tones of the passive voice, “After Jesus was baptized.”  It is even more obvious in Luke where we hear, “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized.”  It is as if the Evangelist is just muttering the moment of Christ’s baptism.

Jesus insists on it for it was, “fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  You see, John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins.  And Jesus, as John well knew, was without sin.  But Jesus will be baptized just like his brothers and sisters who have come out to the Jordan because he will be one with them, with us.  He might not have sinned, but he would feel the burden of our sins.  He will know temptation and see the effect of sin in our lives.  He will not allow anything to separate him from our experience.

And look at the payoff. The heavens are opened and the Spirit, the sign of peace given to Noah, the very presence of the Spirit, comes upon him.  In Matthew’s Gospel, there are no choirs of angels announcing the birth of the Lord.  That is reserved for this moment, when a voice comes from the skies and proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Now that is an Epiphany.

St. Maximus of Turin, not the one played by Russell Crowe, said that at the Baptism of the Lord, it was not Jesus who was made holy, but he made the waters holy.  We were baptized in the same water as Christ, and albeit with less drama, we become the beloved sons and daughters of God.  We are not only swallowed up by these holy waters, but we become one with Jesus – our lives are enveloped by Christ. 

When I do adult baptisms at the Rosa Road Church, I step into the pool, grab the one to be baptized by the scruff of the neck and I am not too gentle.  I dunk them once in the name of the Father and they are surprised although I really did warn them.  Again in the name of the son and they finally believe me by the third time and they take a deep breath by the time I do it again in the name of the Holy Spirit.  For we are all buried in Christ and come to life; we die with him and rise again. 

For Jesus knew dying and rising as we do long before his crucifixion and his resurrection.  He knew what it was to befriend and be betrayed, to be alone and then accompanied, to be angry and consoled, to know abandonment and to know God’s presence. Our baptism is God’s guarantee that we are never forgotten in our worst moments and God rejoices in our best ones.  God is one with us!

Do you know why we baptize children at mass?  It is not because I am already at work and we just as well do it now.   It is not so you can see cute babies.  Actually, that is the problem with baptisms at mass. The kids are too cute and we get lost in the oohs and ahhs.  No, the point is we should recognize the power of our own baptism.  It is one thing when we say great things about beautiful, untainted babies.  But those are our words. The words at our baptism are still the promise we renew every time we perfunctorily dip our fingers in the font and bless ourselves.

So listen and believe these words again. They are true of us at our most tainted, our loneliest and our most desperate.  That is when we need to know, “make them a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with them.”  It is when we do not know who we are or if we can that we need to know, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”  It is when we are lost that we need to know, “You have been enlightened by Christ.  Walk then always as a child of the light.”

This is the truth Jesus unsealed for us as he emerged from the waters of the Jordan River. That our life would be his life and his life would be our life so that we could live forever.  That we might be one, born into the awesome image of God and pleasing in God’s sight – that we might know and believe that we are the beloved of God.