Homily for Jan. 9, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
With the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we end the liturgical season of Christmas. The theme of today’s feast is the beginning of Jesus’ public life. Although we still have the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord coming up in February, we have mostly left behind the parts of the Gospel that refer to Jesus’ infancy and childhood.
Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by St John the Baptist marks the transition between Jesus generally leading an apparently ordinary life to Him starting to preach and work miracles. If we were to think of Jesus as God infiltrating the world so save us, Jesus would have been a “sleeper cell” up until this point. Now, He has received from His Father the message to show His identity and go into action.
It is interesting and significant that the first act of Jesus’ public life took this form. The baptism offered by John wasn’t the sacrament that we receive today; Jesus was the one who instituted that later on. In fact, theologians have often seen the moment of Jesus’ baptism as a sort of blessing of the waters in preparation for Christian baptism. John’s baptism was a simple public act of repentance for one’s sins. This is why John was hesitant to baptize Jesus; he knew by divine revelation that Jesus was sinless, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. But Jesus came to be one of us and to take away our sins, so even though He Himself was sinless, He did this act of repentance for our sake. It is a foretaste of what He will do later, taking the punishment for our sins upon Himself on the cross.
On one hand, we could think that this might not have been easy for Jesus. No one who is innocent likes to be considered guilty, and although Jesus was God, He was also a man with human feelings and a very keen sense of justice. However, He knew this was His Father’s will and understood the reasons for it. And maybe more importantly, He had lived as one of us for 30 years. He knew our struggles and had a great sense of compassion for us. He had come out of pure love to save us, and He was willing to suffer any injustice to win our hearts back to Him.
When Jesus performs this act of love, obedience and humility, the Holy Spirit descends on Him in the appearance a dove, and the Father says, “This is my Son, with Whom I am well pleased.” This is a very theologically rich moment: among other things, it is one of the clearest revelations of the Holy Trinity in the Gospels and of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.
And that’s the message I’d like us all to take away from today’s readings: God is revealed in and through acts of love, compassion and humility. We are most like Christ, most truly Christian, when we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for others, to be supportive, kind and patient, when it goes against the grain, and even sometimes to suffer some injustice for someone else’s good. That is how Jesus reconciled us to the Father, and that is how we can bring peace, unity, and salvation to our families and to our world.