THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
Is.42:1-4, 6-7, Acts.10:34-38, Mtt.3:13-17
Story: A little elderly lady came home from church and discovered a burglar in her house. At the top of her lungs, she yelled “Acts 2:38 – Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins!” The burglar froze and stood there motionless while she called the cops. When the cops arrived, they handcuffed the burglar and said, “Wow that is amazing! Why did you stop when she yelled out the Bible verse?” “Bible verse?!” the burglar said, “I thought she had an axe and two 38s!”
Today’s feast, the baptism of Jesus, is one of those strange luminal times in the Church calendar year because it is two things at once: today is both the last Sunday of our Christmas season and the first Sunday in Ordinary time. Jesus’ baptism is recorded in the three synoptic Gospels, namely Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
In each of these Gospels the scene is presented as a very important turning point in Jesus’ life. As we reflect on what is happening here in the life of Jesus, it is important for us to connect it with our own lives, with our baptism and what that means for each one of us.
What baptism means for you and me is precisely what it meant for Jesus. He was beginning His public life, his mission. His baptism is his inauguration, his rite of entrance into that mission. In the waters of Jordan he has been initiated, called, commissioned. In the waters of baptism we, too, have been initiated, called, and commissioned.
In Nigeria the baptism of a child is usually followed by a happy reception where children are sure to eat one thing, RICE. As a result, the baptism dress is sometimes referred to as a child’s rice dress, and baptism itself is called Rice celebration. Thinking of baptism easily makes people think of rice. And sometimes when you are talking of the rites of baptism, all they hear is the rice of baptism. Though the connection between baptism and rice is altogether accidental, one can utilize it as a memory aid for the meaning of baptism.
So what does this four letter RICE signify in connection with baptism? Here is how one can explain.
R stands for rebirth. All three gospels tell us about Jesus’ baptism in the muddy River Jordan. In baptism we are born again by water and the Holy Spirit, We are cleansed from original sin and become sons and daughters of God in a special way.
I stands for Initiation. At baptism we are initiated or admitted into full membership in the church, the community of the children of God in the world. You have become a disciple of Jesus.
C stands for Commissioning. Until baptism, Jesus had lived a laid back life in Nazareth for thirty years. His was a humble existence as a carpenter. Life with his mother in their sleepy village was blissful. There were three good meals daily. All those things were changed with his baptism.
The work for which He was sent by His Father was beginning. It would consume all His energies. It would cost Him His life. But billions of people would be richer because of his life. He would fulfill the job definition given to Him by His Father, which is laid out in detail in today’s reading from Isaiah.
He was to open the eyes of the blind, free prisoners from confinement, from the dungeon those who live in darkness. In Baptism we are commissioned to spread the kingdom of God. We commit ourselves to be servants of God, to do God’s will and serve God with our whole lives.
E stands for Empowerment. At baptism the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and empowers us, equips us, gives us the moral strength to say no to evil and to live as God’s children that we have become. Now, we might legitimately ask a question: Why did Jesus himself be baptized? He needed no baptism, no repentance, for he was without sin.
In this baptism Jesus wanted to show thereby his solidarity with the entire humanity, to associate himself fully with sinful men. It was self-abasement. But in spite of all that, what we need to learn from today’s feast is only one thing and that is the art of commitment.
Nothing has the value without commitment. Commitment is not everything that’s needed, but it is the key element. Nothing else will work without it. And there’s nothing easy about commitment. The culture that surrounds us sends us many messages that work against the keeping of our commitments.
I’m not saying that all movies and all TV shows are bad. There are really good movies about commitment and keeping one’s promises. But clearly our surrounding culture promotes self-interest, not self-sacrifice. Casual friendships can be fun like we see on television. But they can, at the same time, be deadly.
Think of how young men and women have been ravaged by superficial promises. Look at what happens to people who treat their intimacy as something that is merely casual and fun. The excitement of a casual and superficial life-style quickly leads to depression, a sense of emptiness, loss, degradation, and loss of the ability to trust and believe.
Compare that sort of living with living in the joy of a genuine and loving true friendship, one filled with commitment. After all, when you stop and think about it, commitment and faith go together. Each builds up the other. Commitment is the key element of all noble adventures, wonderful discoveries, and heroic human deeds.
Jesus started with it. So did Mary, His mother. Likewise St. Joseph remained faithful to his commitments. Is there anyone here thinking of making a commitment to the Lord and to your parents? Anyone here thinking of becoming a priest? If you are, then begin with commitment. And if you’re talking with someone who is thinking about any noble endeavor tell him or her to start with commitment.
Commitment isn’t everything. A lot of other things are needed in any success story. But commitment is the key element. Nothing else will work without it. I’ve heard the life-stories of lots of people, true-life stories running through those accounts are stories involving deep, loving commitment, stories that can make you cry.
Journey now back to your baptism. Come to know about your baptism, Who baptized you? Who are your God parents and who were there on the day of your baptism? Now open your ears once again. Hopefully you will hear the voice of God saying to you:
“You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests. You are my beloved daughter and I Will love you no matter what.”
It is because of God’s commitment to us that we in turn can give committed love to others. Making a commitment is the most important part of any great task that we undertake. But it’s not the only thing. We need to acquire education and knowledge. We need to practice and develop our skills.
We hear of mothers and fathers who stay with their children through horrible sicknesses and terrible misfortunes, giving them their message of faithful and steadfast caring love. And we hear stories and accounts of men and women of great nobility and great character who at terrible costs to themselves, maintain their commitments to loved ones, to friends and to noble causes, all in great self-sacrifice.
That’s why we have the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Confirmation. And that is also why Matrimony and Ordination are also sacraments. All of them are sacraments of commitment.
They are holy moments, holy moments that fill us with the Spirit that anointed Jesus Christ who, in His commitment, saw the heavens open and heard a voice thundering: “You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests.”
We cannot possibly pinpoint when that realization came to full flower. But certainly at His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer He had in full measure into that realization. Certainly at that moment, the one we just heard about in today’s Gospel account, He was committing Himself to the destiny that lay in front of Him. A booming voice from heaven proclaimed: “You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.”
Jesus knew that our heavenly Father had special plans for Him. But in His human nature He could not know all of the details of precisely how that would be worked out.
Nevertheless, He made His commitment. Baptism calls us to live lives like that. Let us always remember our Rebirth (Baptism), our initiation to the church and how we were commissioned by the Lord to be pure and keep the light that was given to us and let us ask the Holy Spirit to empower us each day. Amen.