“I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16)
Just last Sunday, we celebrated the Epiphany of Jesus; the Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they fell on their faces and worshipped the Infant King of Kings. Today, Jesus is no longer a baby, he has become a grown man of about thirty years and decides to launch himself into the public arena through baptism, the same sacrament that John the Baptist was administering as a form of preparation for the Messiah.
It seems like a contradiction that the Messiah himself came to partake of something that was meant to prepare for his coming. John tried to resist Jesus but finally obeyed Jesus’ command after He explained it was to fulfil all righteousness. God declared Jesus his beloved son just after baptism. How come this declaration did not come earlier? How does baptism make us children of God? Jesus started his ministry with baptism showing us that baptism is the gateway sacrament. If baptism is the gate, where does it lead to? These are some of the points we shall examine in today’s reflection.
1. The Meaning and Implication of Jesus’ Baptism.
According to St. Maximus of Turin, “At Christmas, Jesus was born a man; today he is reborn sacramentally. Then he was born from the Virgin; today he is born in mystery. When he was born a man, his mother Mary held him close to her heart; when he is born in mystery, God the Father embraces him with his voice when he says: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased: listen to him. The mother caresses the tender baby on her lap; the Father serves his Son by his loving testimony. The mother holds the child for the Magi to adore; the Father reveals that his Son is to be worshipped by all the nations.”
Indeed, Jesus meant it when he described baptism as a form of rebirth in his conversation with Nicodemus. By accepting to be baptized, Jesus himself was born again. Today is Jesus’ second birthday; part two of Christmas Day. Like Jesus, we became born again on the day of our baptism.
2. In Baptism, God Fathers His Children.
In today’s Gospel passage, we are told that as soon as Jesus had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form as a dove and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Does it occur to you that this is exactly what happened on the day of your baptism?
In baptism, God fathers us, he takes us as his own children and showers his love upon us. No wonder in today’s first reading, we hear Isaiah saying: “Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God comes with might… He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom.” (Isaiah 40:9-11). When we are baptised, God becomes involved in our story, he carries us gently and softly as babies. This is why the baptismal liturgy addresses us as children regardless of our actual age. I once baptised a woman of eighty years and I remember asking the sponsor: “What name do you give to your child?” and she just burst into laughter.
How does baptism make us God’s children? One, by the process of cleansing. Baptism washes us from original sin, it is an undoing of the sin of Adam and Eve which drove them out of God’s presence. As St. Paul explains in today’s second reading: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but by virtue of his mercy, through the WATER OF REBIRTH AND RENEWAL by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5). This cleansing and rebirth is God’s free gift to us, an act of God’s mercy.
Two, baptism makes us God’s children through our verbal commitment. By saying “I do” to the baptismal promises, we unite ourselves to God and cut off ties with the devil. This second aspect requires our co-operation. We cannot claim to be God’s children if we fail to, as St. Paul tells us, renounce “impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.” (Titus 2:11-12). Children must resemble their father not simply by name but by their very lives.
3. Baptism is The Gate.
The fact that Jesus did not begin his ministry until his baptism is very instructive. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which give access to other sacraments.” (cf. CCC no. 1213). In his wisdom, God created life to be in stages. One does not become old without first being a youth, so also in the spiritual life, baptism serves as a very important introductory stage to the other sacraments.
To say baptism is a gate is to imply that it leads somewhere. Baptism is just the beginning. Jesus did not remain where he was after baptism, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he fasted and prayed forty days and nights. He was no longer the same person afterward. Those who knew him before even exclaimed: “Is this not Jesus, the son of the Carpenter? Where did He get all these?” Isn’t it a shame that after our baptism, we still remain in darkness? Don’t remain at the gate anymore, get up, move to the next level; arise and shine. Grow in virtue, grow in spirit. Draw nearer to God.
For those not yet baptised, you are really missing. Jesus told Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). Come forward today. Come and begin a new life in Christ.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, I renew my baptismal vows today, give me an increase of grace to continue walking in your light as your beloved child. Amen.
Bible Study: Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11, Titus 2:11-14,3:4-7, Luke 3:15-16,21-22).