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Baptism of the Lord

Here is the homily I delivered for the Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of the Lord, Year A
St. Theresa’s 11:00 a.m.
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 10:34-38
Matthew 3:13-17
January 9, 2011
     John the Baptist has been busy calling people to repent.  He has been baptizing those who have come to him in repentance.  The baptism of John is for the forgiveness of sins.  One of our principle uses of water is for cleaning.  John baptizes with water as a symbol of how our sins are forgiven.
     John’s message is all about repentance.  His baptism is solely a ritual act for cleansing of our sins.
     Now, here comes Jesus.  John immediately recognizes Jesus as the one who is “mightier than I” and will baptize with the fire and Holy Spirit.
     Here comes the Messiah and he seeks baptize from John.  John questions him “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”
     John the Baptist is dumbfounded.  He knows how much greater Jesus is than he.  He knows that the Baptism of Jesus will mean so much more.
     John is confused and so he questions.  Why should he baptize Jesus?  Why would Jesus need to be baptized by him?  Jesus has no sin.
     Jesus tells him to allow this to do this “fulfill” all righteousness.
     And so John “allows” Jesus to be baptized by him.  Isn’t that nice?  John “allowed” Jesus to do this.  Yet, we sometimes don’t allow Jesus to help us.
     So why is Jesus to be baptized?  He has no sin but in being baptized by John, Jesus takes a ritual that is a ritual cleansing and makes it so much more.
     Yes, in Baptism, original sin and any personal sins up to that time are forgiven and that is important.  But something more happens when Jesus is baptized.
     “The heavens were opened for him.”  In the Jewish understanding this meant that God opened up the heavens to communicate with his Son.
     In baptism, the heavens are opened for us.  In baptism, we enter into new life with Jesus, become members of the Body of Christ. 
     That already makes baptism so much more than John’s baptism but there is still more. 
     What happens next?  The “spirit of God” descended upon him like a dove.  In baptism, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
     One more thing!  That voice! That voice from heaven that says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus is The Son of God.  In baptism, we become children of God.
     So much happens in our baptism but once we are baptized do we do much to remember it.  I bet that if I asked anyone here they would know the date of their birth.  But if I asked you the date of your baptism, I bet you won’t know.  I don’t know the exact date of my baptism.  I know the year and maybe the month but that is only because when I was applying to seminary I had to get a new copy of my baptismal certificate.
     Baptism leaves a permanent mark on us. The church calls it an “indelible mark” on our character.  We are forever changed by it.  We are to be ever-reminded of that.  For instance, at baptism we are dressed in a white garment as a sign that we have been cleansed of our sins.  At funerals, a white pall is placed on the casket as a reminder of our baptism.
     When was the last time you thought about your baptism and what it means for you?  Note I said what it “means” for you (present tense) rather than “meant” for you (past tense).
     Baptism is a calling from God.  Look at Jesus’ baptism.  It was not done on John’s initiative.  It was done by Jesus’ initiative.  It was done by God’s calling.
     God calls us to be his children, God calls us to be his servant.  In the first reading we find the first of four “Servant Songs” in the Book of Isaiah that tells us what it means to be a servant, a child of God.
     We are called to bring justice to the world but this justice is not “legal justice” but truth and fairness to all.  Isaiah says the servant will do this not with shouting or by force.  We do it quietly in the way we live, each according to how God has called us.
     Do you listen to God’s call?
     When we think about God’s call (or vocation), we tend to think of priests, deacons, and religious as those who have been called by God.
     As a priest, I do have a special calling in the way I serve the Lord.  As a priest I am called to preside over the sacraments and to lead God’s people, to lead you, to do God’s will.  Deacons and religious have their callings.  It is not the same for all priests, etc.  Some teach, some work in parishes, some are missionaries.
     As a parish priest I am called to bring the gospel to you, so that in turn you may grow deeper in your faith, live your faith as God has called you and then share that faith with others.  Listen to God’s call.


Fr. Jeff

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