We celebrate the baptism of the Lord today at Mass. The celebration will conclude the Christmas season. As always, the focus of our celebration is on Jesus, the Christ.
The gospel passage for the liturgy comes from The Gospel According to Luke. The account opens with the people questioning whether it might be possible that John was the long awaited Messiah, the Christ. They ask John about this and he replies: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
John points the way to Jesus. After Jesus approaches and is baptized by John, “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” Then the voice of the Father came and said to Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.”
Jesus is the Messiah. The baby whose birth we celebrated on Christmas, the light who came into the world to dispel darkness and gather all nations in the one Kingdom of God, is now ready to begin his public ministry. In him the Isaian prophecy will be fulfilled: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.”
Peter proclaims the saving activity of God to those gathered in Cornelius’ house, noting that “God shows no partiality.” All peoples in every nation who fear the Lord and live upright lives are “acceptable to him.” He then goes onto speak of Jesus as the Christ: “…beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” It is through Jesus that we have salvation, it is through him that all nations have been blessed and all peoples delivered.
Celebrating the Lord’s baptism naturally leads us to reflect on our own baptism. As those life-giving waters are poured and the words pronounced — “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” — we are mysteriously, sacramentally united with Jesus the Christ. We become one with him and each other as brothers and sisters. That union, or communion, with him is one by which we become adopted sons and daughters of God. Jesus is the source of our adoption. Through him we become children of God.
Faith in Christ Jesus is a way of life. The celebration of Jesus as the Christ takes place every day of our lives. He is present to us and with us always. It takes effort to remind ourselves of this and to keep focused on him. The responsibilities of life, good as many of them are, can be a distraction if we do not take the time to remember and to keep our eyes on him. Each day we have the opportunity to listen to him and to be led by him. Taking some time, even if it is just a few minutes, will help us remember his presence.
During the past few weeks many of our liturgical prayers, based on the Scriptures, use the image of light for Christ – the “light shining in the darkness,” for example. During the rite of baptism, a candle is lit from the paschal candle for each person who has been baptized. When parents receive this candle on behalf of their infant child, the celebrant says, “Receive the light of Christ,” then adds, “Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. Your child has been enlightened by Christ. He/she is to walk always as a child of the light. May they keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts. When the Lord comes, may they go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
As adults, we have already received the light, but to keep it burning brightly we have to care and tend the fire. Prayer each day, no matter how small, will help us see the light and allow that light to lead and guide us through the day.
Jesus is the Christ. We pray today that our lives may be a living proclamation of our faith in the one born in Bethlehem and baptized by John.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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