Baptism of the Lord
8/9 January 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
The Church Fathers teach us that Jesus is not made holy by the waters that baptize him. He is already holy. Even John the Baptist knows this. He asks Jesus - what is the world are you doing? Holy people should baptize sinners, not sinners baptize holy ones. Yet Jesus' baptism was still necessary. He was not made holy by the water, but He made the water holy by allowing Himself to be baptized.
Jesus' first public act is not to perform some great sign. It is to allow something to be done to him. It is to accept his mission to be identified with sinners. In allowing something to be done to Him, Jesus shows Himself truly to be the son of Mary, who was not known for her great signs she worked, but for her great yes, her acceptance of a mission to let something be done to her according to His word. The name Jesus, which means the one who will save them from their sins, indicates Jesus' mission to prefer sinners, to love sinners, to be with sinners. Jesus does not need to be baptized, no more than he needs to die in punishment for sin, but He allows it to be done to him, to fulfill all righteousness, to fulfill the mission given Him by the Father to identify with sinners. Jesus' first public act mirrors His last and greatest public act. Although He is not a sinner nor will He ever be, He refuses to separate Himself from sinners, but prefers to be called a sinner Himself, even being spat on and mocked, so that sinners might have a chance once again to live. The prophet Isaiah tells us precisely the mission of Jesus. He will not discard a single sinner. A bruised reed He will never break. Rather He will allow Himself to be bruised out of love and in solidarity and in hope for sinners. Jesus the full revelation of God shows God's desire to save us rather than judge us. He is willing to be judged in our place. His baptism is a willing entering into his eventual suffering and death of the cross. Yet thankfully, the cross is not the end of the story. The story does not end in God's defeat, nor in ours. The appearance of the Holy Spirit at the baptism is a foreshadowing of the same Spirit that will raise Jesus from the dead.
The baptism of Jesus is the first full revelation of the Trinity, the central mystery of our Christian faith into which we were all baptized - Father, Son and Spirit. The Father declares that He is well pleased with His Son, and He sees the same in us who through baptism are members of His body and truly children of God. How easily do we believe the worst about ourselves, and fear the judgment of God, even knowing Jesus' great desire and mission to forgive us rather than to judge us? In my experience as a priest, most Christians dwell on their sinfulness much longer than they dwell on the dignity of their baptism. If only each one of us would hear the Father's voice at the beginning of every morning, before ever having a negative thought about ourselves. You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased. My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, this is the dignity of our baptism, and the sure gift of faith, to be able to hear and to trust this voice in the depths of our being. You are my beloved sons and daughters, in whom I am well pleased. If only we could believe in how much God delights in us His children, before He ever counts a sin against us, I believe we would be different. I'm not saying that ours sins don't matter, I'm just saying that we will be converted by love far more than we will ever be converted by the law.
As we celebrate the great baptism of Jesus, and recall the greatest day in each one of our lives, the day of our baptism, the day when something was done to us that changed us far more than anything we could or will ever do to change ourselves, let us make it our goal this year to live out the Christmas mystery that we finish celebrating today, and to know how many times and in so many ways that the Lord wants to come visit us and make us holy by His presence in the coming year. No one who has been baptized into the death of Christ should turn his life into a self-improvement project. If we have been baptized, we are dead to this world. Nothing has to go our way in this world for us to be perfectly happy. If we focus on life in this world, and only hang around Jesus in case He has a lucky winning ticket for eternal life waiting for us after death, then we have no need of baptism. Those who are baptized only care about eternal life, a life that is not measurable but consists in depth of relationship with a person who Himself is the way, the truth and the life. If we have been baptized, life is not about self-improvement, it is about the self-forgetfulness that is the special mission of those who belong to Christ. Christ didn't worry one second about self-improvement. I dare say He never made a New Year's resolution. His mission was self-forgetfulness. That is all. Our only resolution in the new year, the only one that really matters for those who have celebrated Christmas, is to allow Jesus to come and visit us always as surely as He did on the day of our baptism. The only thing that matters to a Christian is to remember and most of all to believe in the dignity that we have as children of God, and to not allow the world to steal this dignity away from us. I'm not saying it is wrong to try to lose weight, or save money, or work on relationships. That is all fine and good. But for the Christian something else is primary. It is to use the gift of faith given at baptism to allow God to say to you at each moment of your life - you are my beloved son or daughter. In you I am well pleased. If we receive this dignity and truly believe in God and in ourselves, then we may not be perfect as the world judges things, but we will be the priests, prophets and kings in Christ that is the full dignity of our baptism. If we do anything new this year, let us be priests who pray for each other, let us be prophets who allow God's light to shine in new areas of the world, let us be kings who create a world in which people can believe in God and in one another. Amen.