Christ Jesus is the focus of the Christmas season. The signs up on properties and cars read: “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Our celebrations focus on God’s love made known to us in Christ Jesus. The gospel stories on the preparations for his birth, the annunciation accounts, the visitation, the birth of John all point forward to the birth of Christ. The celebration of his birth, the visit of the shepherds, the angels singing, the visit of the magi and the presentation have Jesus at the center.
The focus continues this Sunday as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. John makes clear that his role is one of preparation. He baptizes with water but “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit’s presence there at the baptism is represented by the dove descending on Jesus. The scene culminates with the voice of God the Father saying: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
The words of the Father are similar to those in Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7, which is one of the choices for Sunday’s first reading. The words speak of the servant who will bring justice, peace, healing and freedom to the earth. The key difference being that the servant is now the Son.
The Son leads us to the Father. The other choice for a first reading for the liturgy is also from Isaiah (Is. 55:1-11). The reading points forward to the bountiful life that comes from God: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.”
The passage points us to the one who can satisfy – who gives meaning to life and leads us to the Father who is the source of life. The invitation is given: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
Yet the Lord points to the day when his ways will be made known. He will send his word. The word coming forth will “not return to me void but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
The image is similar to that in the Prologue of the fourth gospel, which was the reading for Christmas day. That passage begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” All things were created through the Word and will be renewed through the Word made flesh, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.
It is in him that we share in life — eternal life, divine life — by becoming children of God: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.”
The Son comes so that we might become sons and daughters. This happens as we are joined to Christ Jesus through baptism. His baptism points to our baptism. Through baptism we are united with Christ in his death so that we might have a share in eternal life, divine life, through his resurrection. It is in this union with Christ that we become children of God.
The bond of love established in and through Christ Jesus is strong and unassailable. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, will ask the question: “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” He continues; “Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?”
Today these questions might be put: “Will Covid, or hatred, or riots, or politics, or racism, or poverty, or vandalism?” The answer will remain the same: “No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The celebration of the Baptism of the Lord concludes the Christmas Season and marks the transition to Ordinary Time. We are reminded through this celebration that the Lord is with us and he is the focus of our lives — not just at Christmas time but all the time.
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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