The Baptism of the Lord [B]
Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 [or Isaiah 55:1-11] + Acts 10:34-38 [or 1 John 5:1-9] + Mark 1:7-11
January 10, 2021
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God the Father spoke these words about you? “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” In fact, this final feast of the Christmas Season helps us realize that that’s exactly what God the Father says to you every day, beginning on the day of your baptism.
It’s not a newsflash that “childhood” is one the major themes of the Church’s season of Christmas. One of the most famous Christmas hymns asks: “What Child is this / Who laid to rest / on Mary’s lap / is sleeping?” What child is this? Who is this child? How can a helpless infant possibly be the same God who fashioned the stars, the galaxies, the black holes and everything else in the physical universe? How can a little child possibly be the eternal God? Christmas is full of such paradoxes, or as the Church tends to call them, sacred mysteries.
But the mystery of this Christ Child is not the only mystery about childhood that the Church ponders during the Christmas Season. This season also focuses our attention on you and me being called to adoption as God’s very own children. For example, in St. John’s first epistle the Beloved Disciple writes about this divine adoption, proclaiming: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so we are. … Beloved, we are God’s children now” [1 John 3:1-2].
That’s a truly awesome mystery that John’s proclaiming, but it’s also a profound paradox. It’s hard enough to imagine how a tiny baby could be the All-Powerful Lord of Hosts. But it’s even harder to imagine how a sinner such as you or I could become, not just a saint, but a very child of God the Father! But “so we are”, St. John proclaims: “we are God’s children now”.
God’s adoption of us isn’t just some act of pity on God’s part, like the way that you might give shelter and food to a stray animal for a few days, before figuring out whom to pass it on to. When you pass on, at the hour of your death, you pass on to God Himself: if, that is, you’re faithful during your earthly days to the promises of your baptism.
Christian baptism is the key to being God’s children now, and—we pray—forever in Heaven. But our own baptism is rooted in the sacred mystery of the Baptism of the Lord, the sacred mystery that the Church is celebrating on this final feast of Christmastide.
The initial question that arises when pondering the Baptism of the Lord is “Why?” Why was Jesus even baptized in the first place? Baptism is for the washing away of sins, and Jesus of course never had any sins on His soul. So why did Jesus submit Himself to St. John the Baptist and receive John’s baptism?
One significant reason is to mark a beginning. In fact, the new beginning marked by Jesus’ Baptism is so significant that the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a link between Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of Creation as described in the Book of Genesis. The Catechism states that “[t]he Spirit who had hovered over the waters of the first creation descended then on [Jesus at the River Jordan] as a prelude of the new creation, and the Father revealed Jesus as His ‘beloved Son’” [CCC 1224, citing Mt 3:16-17]. In other words, the work that Jesus began on the day of His Baptism was the work of a “new creation”, also called the work of redemption and sanctification.
Likewise, when you were baptized, there was also a new beginning in your life. In fact, what began on the day of your baptism is so important that every year, you should celebrate the day of your baptism with as much, if not more, gusto than that with which you celebrate your birthday.
What the day of your own baptism marks, then, is the day when God adopted you and gifted you in many ways. He did this to set you on that path of an ever-increasing share in God’s life, leading ultimately into His very Presence in Heaven.