The Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord
“You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” Entrance Antiphon: Mt 3:16-17 – “After the Lord was baptized, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the voice of the Father thundered: 'This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” First Reading: Is 55:1-11 – “Come to the waters: listen, that you may have life.” Responsorial Psalm: Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6 – “You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.” Second Reading: 1 Jn 5:1-9 – “The Spirit and the water and the blood.” Alleluia: Jn 1:29 – “Alleluia, alleluia. John saw Jesus approaching him, and said: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Alleluia, alleluia.” Gospel: Mk 1:7-11 – “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” Communion Antiphon: Jn 1:32, 34 – “Behold the One of whom John said: 'I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.'" It was good of the ancient Romans to give the god Janus two heads … that way he could look backward and forward at the same time. And it served him well as the god who kept watch at doors and entrances. Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, in the month of January … in the month named after Janus ... bids us look backward and forward as we enter this new month and this new year. First, this feast bids us look back to Advent as it ends the Christmas season. Second, it bids us to look ahead to Holy Week. The Advent liturgy is filled with the theme of John the Baptist’s preaching: “the One who is coming after me is mightier than I” (Mk 1:7). That “mightier” One came in the least mighty form possible … that of a tiny baby. But today as we celebrate His baptism, Jesus has moved very far from the manger, chronologically speaking. Jesus the baby has grown up into Jesus the man. And with adulthood will come adult-sized work: calling the first disciples, preaching, teaching, and healing … things we will hear about on the Sundays to come. Yet before He set out on His life’s work, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. Here Jesus’ divine Son-ship was attested by His almighty Father’s voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit. And having been empowered by that Spirit, Jesus began to accomplish God’s saving work in this world. But at this Baptism ... this crucial moment in His life ... Jesus had to look backward and forward. At His baptism, Jesus looked backward to ancient prophecy. He looked back to the mission of justice that the prophet Isaiah had sketched out for the Suffering Servant of the Lord … and Jesus accepted that mission. But while He accepted this mission foretold in the past, He also looked forward to its future fulfillment in Himself. Jesus knew that obtaining the victory of justice would not be easy. He knew that meeting an ugly fate in Jerusalem was something that prophets could almost certainly count on … and Jesus knew that He would be no exception. But like the Suffering Servant whom Isaiah had described, Jesus knew that God would uphold Him. And so He never turned back. The words that Jesus heard at His baptism, “You are My beloved Son. With You I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11), were words that resounded again and again in His heart as He accomplished all that God the Father wanted of Him. These words turned Jesus’ mind and heart back to God’s faithful Servant described by Isaiah ... the Servant whose saving mission would be accomplished through suffering and death. These words turned Jesus’ vision ahead to the unfolding of that mission, no matter where it would take him. And as we all know, it would take Him to death on a cross. In this weekend’s Second Reading from the First Letter of Saint John, we hear a summary of Jesus’ teaching ... “love the Father, love also the One begotten by Him ... in this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey His commandments (1 Jn 5:1).” We are told that it is God who testifies to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. Who would know this better than God? But we do not hear this testimony coming from God’s mouth … rather, we learn through the fruits of Jesus’ life (the Spirit, the water of Baptism, and the water and the blood that poured from His side as He hung upon the cross). Through all of those things we learn about salvation and the inclusion of everyone in the work of redemption. When we testify to God’s power and love, our changed lives bear greater witness than our words. Throughout His ministry, Jesus never forgot what a crucial moment His baptism was. And in a sense, the end of His ministry was like the beginning. Jesus’ earthly mission of preaching the Good News and doing good works began with His descent into the waters of the Jordan. It ended with his descent into the dark waters of death. Jesus’ death and resurrection, which saved us from the grip of sin and death, was His last and greatest act of healing for us. The Christmas season ends today and during it we should have contemplated the manifestation of God in human flesh. By doing that each year, we ultimately participate more fully in the rebirth that God bestowed on each of us at our own baptism. The Sacrament of Baptism for each of us was both an event … and a process ... in that we began to live as the beloved daughters and sons of God. We began the dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ which Baptism signifies. We may have a dated baptismal certificate tucked away somewhere with our important papers, but realize that we are challenged to live our baptism every day ... let me put it another way ... we need to live our baptism every day. In the enduring power of our baptism, we, like Jesus, have begun a lifelong journey of preaching the Good News and doing good works. Because of our baptism, God is with us on this journey just as God was with Jesus. That is our joy as we look backward to our baptism. That is our strength as we look forward to its unfolding in this life, and also as we live out our baptismal promises to their completion in the life to come.