Sermon for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Year A)
Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: 7:30am & 5:00pm
12 January 2014
Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps 28; Acts 10:34-38; Mt 3:13-17
Some authors suggest that it’s lucky, in a way, that the story of the baptism of Jesus made it into the tradition. For, at the time, this episode would have been “disturbing, embarrassing, and even scandalous” (1). Why did the all-holy, immaculate Lamb of God submit to an act of ritual purification? Why did he risk giving the appearance that he was as much in need of the baptism of repentance being given by John as anyone else?
Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a wonderful pivot point between the Season of Christmas, and then our journey into the mysteries of Christ’s life in Ordinary Time. It is a fitting conclusion to Christmas because the central theme of these past weeks has been the fact that God drew close to humankind; so close that he took flesh to live among us. Jesus steps into the waters with sinful mankind, and in so doing he shows us how much God loves us: that He comes to us in our necessity and our weakness. He doesn’t just watch; He doesn’t just send others to try to fix things. He Himself is in the water … and by His presence he makes holy the very waters with which he is washed.
The mystery of the Lord’s baptism is a prefigurement of his crucifixion and death. His going down into the waters for baptism points to when he will go down into the darkness of death and his descent into hell. His descent, both times (at his baptism, and in his crucifixion and death), is precisely to undo and transform … he goes down into the waters of baptism to make holy those waters which will free people from sin; he goes down into realm of death to undo the powers of death, and to make our passage through death not an end, but a path to resurrection.
The fact that we might ask “why?” – why did the sinless one receive John’s baptism or repentence – indicates that Jesus would stop at nothing to come to our assistance. He would risk being misunderstood in order to come to our aid. “When [love] comes to the aid of the beloved, it does not wait to see whether it might be misunderstood or compromised. … It makes itself vulnerable and if necessary accepts hurt” (1). The tenderness with which Jesus comes to us is spoken of beautifully in the words of the prophet Isaiah – words that are applied to Jesus, “He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame” (First Reading). These are very consoling words. Sometimes we are that crushed reed, or wavering flame … and Jesus’s mercy is gentle … and then, in turn, we will encounter others who are crushed and wavering, and our challenge is to have the tenderness of Christ in dealing with them.
The baptism of Jesus – together with his epiphany – marks the beginning of his appearing to the world. Similarly, our baptism is the beginning of our life with God, the moment when we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his Letter Porta fidei: “The ‘door of faith’ is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through the door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism, through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death and eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
In baptism, we have been washed in the waters that do away with sin. That baptismal washing is renewed every time we make a good confession – we are renewed as cleansed as if it was the day of our baptism. Because of our baptism, we also need no longer fear the passage of death. We have the promise of Christ that if we share his life through faith and baptism, then we can be sharers in his passage through death to the resurrection.
On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, let’s be grateful that we have been made sharers in the life of Christ through holy baptism. Let’s give thanks to God that we have been washed in the waters that Christ made holy at his baptism. Let’s give thanks to God that the graces of baptism are constantly being renewed in us – they have been made firm in the Sacrament of Confirmation; they are renewed every time we participate in the eucharist; and they restored in Confession when we loose them.
The journey to and with Christ is a lifelong journey. Christ has come to us in all tenderness and mercy so that we can share his life; so that we can come to share in his divinity by his sharing in our humanity. Filled with love at Christ’s mercy, let’s pray that we will not despise His love, or ignore it … let’s make a wholehearted response by coming to him, and living our lives according to his will, and in his will.
(1) Aidan Nichols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 2, The Temporal Cycle: Advent and Christmastide, Lent and Eastertide, Balwyn, Victoria, Freedom Publishing, 2012.