Today the Christmas season comes to an end with the Baptism of the Lord. Why would Jesus seek to be baptized? After all he unlike us was born without sin. John the Baptist wondered too: “I need to be baptized by you,” John said. Jesus gently replied; “allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Righteousness in this sense likely means the will of the Father. In other words, my baptism is part of God’s plan, and I came to do His will. The Baptism of Jesus can be seen as revelation, as inauguration and as a statement of mission.
The baptism of the Lord is revelation, making clear in no uncertain terms who Jesus was and is and revealing the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God the Son is baptized, God the Holy Spirit descends and God the Father gives testimony. One God in three persons is an article of our faith affirmed in this Sacred Scripture. When we are baptized it is in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God in three persons.
The baptism of the Lord is also inauguration. After spending thirty what some call hidden years in Nazareth under the loving care of and for Mary and Joseph, Jesus comes forward near the holy city of Jerusalem to publicly begin his sacred work, to inaugurate his public ministry. As a result the world was changed forever as St. Peter in the 2nd reading attests and so can we.
Finally the baptism of the Lord is a statement of mission. That mission is to with humility, commitment and courage assume the role of servant, the suffering servant, obedient to God’s will identified by the prophet Isaiah in our first reading. Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized by John to show us that through the waters of our baptism we can become cleansed of our sinfulness, we too can become servants of the Lord.
God the Father declares in a momentous phrase, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Our goal in life should be that God the Father can say of us; this is my beloved son, my beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased. I have a ways to go before he can say that about me. Yet it ought to be our purpose as we journey toward holiness in hope of eternal life to please God in what we do and what we say, in how we live and serve. As a result of baptism, He gives us the tools, the grace and the confidence to do so.
Do you remember your baptism? Most of us were infants and do not. Pope Francis challenged and I do at confirmations to find out the date of our baptisms, once in a lifetime spiritual moments. It is one of the most significant events in our lives. We celebrate our physical birthdays, even though we do not remember that event. Our spiritual birthday is as worthy of grateful note.
A man entered a florist shop and asked for a small corsage. “It’s for my granddaughter; she has her first date tomorrow” he said. “How old is your granddaughter?” “She’s two weeks old.” The florist was taken aback. “You said a date, a corsage, and two weeks old?” “Exactly. I want a corsage that is just right. She’ll never have a more important date in her life than she has tomorrow. She’s going to be baptized.”
There are studies that suggest that babies in the womb are impacted by what is happening around them. I was amused by one study that concluded that babies after birth respond to the theme music of soap operas their mothers watched during pregnancy. Infants exposed to the sound of particular soap opera music before birth reportedly stopped crying and became more alert after birth when the theme song was played. The theory is that because mothers were relaxed and calm when watching such television while carrying them, so were they. I’ll let the professionals debate that. If true. I hope the influence was limited to the music and not the story lines.
The point is that babies can feel and know the sensations of love, and so can adults. That is what baptism is, the love of God for us in part expressed through the senses. We can see it at a baptism: voice calm in prayer, hands gently placed on the head, water poured, fragrant oil signed on the forehead, soft white cloth placed on the body, flickering candles glowing. Through these actions, sounds and sights, the Church teaches that three significant things occur at baptism: original sin is removed, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in a special way, and the baptized become part of the Christian community. In return promises are made to the Lord, if infants on their behalf by parents and godparents, which we then affirm at confirmation. That commitment is to live the Great Commandments – to love the Lord our God fully and our neighbor as ourselves.
After the clergy baptizes in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he then declares: “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” What a powerful declaration of truth and what a daunting task we assume, to always live as a member of his body. Another beautiful gift which flows from baptism is that even when we falter and sin, His love remains. We are invited to experience his mercy through the sacrament of penance and then to start anew.
Many of us enjoyed the Andy Griffith TV show about a widower sheriff in Mayberry, North Carolina raising his son Opie. In one of the early episodes Sheriff Taylor invites Aunt Bee to come and live with and care for them. Opie is not happy about it. Andy tries to help build a relationship between the two by having them go fishing and frog catching and other activities boys enjoy. But they are not what she had experienced. Though she tried, she is a failure at all of them, frustrating Opie. One night Opie overhears Aunt Bee tearfully asking Andy to take her to the bus station because things were not working out. Opie runs down the stairs from his bedroom and with emotion says: “We can’t let her go, Pa, she needs us. She can’t even catch frogs, take fish off the hook, or throw a football. We’ve gotta take care of her or she’ll never make it.”
In a way that is the mission that comes with our baptism and confirmation, we are to take care of one another in little and big ways in the name of Christ, or some of us will never make it.
By the way, my spiritual birthday, my baptismal date is June 18. What is yours?