With this Sunday’s celebration of the Baptism of the Lord our Christmas season ends. Christmas is a time of great hope. We hear the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, we see Jesus laying in the manger, and our hearts are filled with hope.
The sight of any baby can fill our hearts with joy for a moment. What is special about the birth of Jesus that gives us great hope? Jesus is no ordinary child. Yes, He is the son of Mary. He is also the Son of God, the promised Messiah! When we see baby Jesus we already know the rest of the story. From the gospels we know of the miracles He did. We know his teaching. Most of all we know that He willingly gave his life for us on the Cross. In this we know how much He loves us.
Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Yet, it is fitting that we end our Christmas season with a story from Jesus’ adult life. He was baptized around the age of thirty. Why do we include this in our Christmas season? Because his Baptism marks the beginning of the mission He came to fulfill.
Hearing the story of Jesus’ Baptism can lead us to think about our own Baptism and how God calls us to live.
John the Baptist offered a baptism that is the forgiveness of sins. The water symbolizes cleansing of sin. That is all that John’s baptism did. John knew that Jesus would offer a baptism that offers much more, “I am baptizing you with water…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.“
At Jesus’ Baptism we are offered divine confirmation of who Jesus is by the voice from Heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is the Son of God!
During his Baptism, “the Holy Spirit descended upon him.” We all receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism as we are anointed with the Sacred Chrism.
As Jesus was baptized, “heaven was opened.” It was opened not just for Jesus. Heaven is opened for us. Through our own Baptism, we receive the gift of eternal life in Heaven.
Who can receive Baptism? In one of the options for the second reading today (there are two options for both the second reading and the first reading), Acts 10:34-38, we hear Peter say, “God shows no partiality…Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” Heaven is open to everyone who is “acts uprightly,” following the Lord’s ways. (The readings can be found at https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/010922.cfm.)
The other option for the second reading, Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7, says, “He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.“ We are born into the earthly world as we emerge from our mother’s womb. We are born again in Baptism, the “bath of rebirth,” to eternal life. The Holy Spirit brings us new life, the life we are created for in knowing and loving God. When we truly embrace what God offers in Baptism, we see this world very differently.
What have we done to deserve the life that we are offered in Baptism? Nothing! It is not something we earn. As Paul writes to Titus, God offers us eternal life, “not because of any righteous deeds we had one but because of his mercy.” Our life in Christ did not begin from our own initiative. It begins with God who makes us his chosen one and puts his spirit upon us (See Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 as one of the two options for the first reading). The Lord tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand.“
We are baptized in water. Through his blood shed on the Cross, Jesus “gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.” We are cleansed of our sins through Jesus death on the Cross. In Baptism we are made children of God. Are we “eager to do what is good”?
During our Baptism we are anointed with the Sacred Chrism. This is the prayer said at the time of this anointing:
“Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
has freed you from sin,
given you new birth by water and the Holy Spirit,
and joined you to his people.
He now anoints you with the Chrism of Salvation,
so that you may remain as a member of Christ,
Priest, Prophet, and King,
unto eternal life.
As “priest” we are all called to offer sacrifices in the way we live our lives. The sacrifice comes when we give something up that we want for ourselves to serve God or in loving our neighbor.
We are called to be prophets by sharing the light of Christ with others. We are called to “speak tenderly” about what God offers us. As prophets, we are called to share the same message as foretold by Isaiah and proclaimed by John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. We are to be heralds of good news.
We are called to be kings not in holding our power over others. We are called to be kings following the example of Jesus our king. His kingly example is one of service. As we hear in Isaiah 40, we are called to “give comfort” to God’s people.
Knowing the love of God through all that Jesus does for us, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us in our efforts to be faithful disciples and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.