“Allow it for now,” Jesus responds to John the Baptist’s question: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus humbly embraces the mission he has been given in love. The mission began when he took on flesh and was born of Mary. The Son of God humbles himself not only to become human but to take on all aspects of human life. He takes on flesh and then is born into this world like every other baby.
The fragility of human life is embraced by the one who created it. Now some 30 of so years later, he prepares for the public aspect of his ministry which will ultimately lead to his passion, death and resurrection — the paschal mystery.
Jesus is baptized by John. As Jesus rises out of the water the Spirit of God descends like a dove, then the voice of the Father is heard saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Father speaks. He speaks of love, his love for his son. The same love overflows to the Father’s adopted sons and daughters through baptism.
Jesus’ baptism foreshadows the baptism of the faithful that will follow his passion, death and resurrection. The celebration this Sunday of the Lord’s baptism affords us the opportunity to reflect on our own baptism. Jesus will say later in the public ministry: “Unless one is born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
St. Paul, reflecting on the significance of baptism, will say: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 3:4-5).
In baptism, we are united with Christ Jesus. Through union with him we share in the divine life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the life of love. St. John wrote: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:15). Baptism is the gateway that Jesus provides for our participation in the divine life of love.
St. Paul will also reflect that through this communion we become sons and daughters of God and heirs to the Kingdom. Our celebration of Jesus’ baptism is a celebration of God’s love. God loves his Son and through him this love is poured out on us.
Sometimes Christmas is referred to as the Season of Love. The celebrations of the Incarnation, Nativity, Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord all echo the “joyous strain” we hear so often this time of the year. The many acts of kindness, generosity and compassion that are associated with gift giving, visits and food collections (to name a few) witness to and flow from the love we celebrate in the season.
As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, perhaps we can recommit ourselves to the baptismal promises and the life of a disciple. It is a life of faith in Christ Jesus. It is a life of listening to the Word and celebrating the sacraments. It is a life that feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty. It is a life that visits the sick and prays for the dying. It is a life that gives clothing to the naked. It is life that seeks not its own interests but those of others.
It is a life of love and mercy.
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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