HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, YEAR C
ISAIAH 40:1-5, 9-11
TITUS 2:11-14, 3:4-7
LUKE 3:15-16, 21-22
THEME: JESUS’ BAPTISM AND OURS
Beloved Friends, for more than two weeks we have been celebrating some great Christmas Solemnities in relation to Jesus as an infant, viz; the Solemnities of the Holy Family, Mary Mother of God, and Epiphany. But this morning, Mother Church shifts our attention to the adult Jesus as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This celebration marks Jesus’ first public appearance as an adult with his baptism by John the Baptist in the river Jordan.
Historically, this feast was originally one of the three Gospel events marked by the feast of Epiphany. However, because it was overshadowed in the Western Church by the visit of the Magi, Pope Pius X11 in 1955 instituted it as a separate liturgical commemoration of Christ’s baptism. This affirmed the Baptism of the Lord as a great part of Theophany and in it the mystery of the Blessed Trinity was manifested. But it was Pope Paul 1V who fixed it for the Sunday after January 6th or if in a particular country the Epiphany is celebrated on the 7th or 8th January, on the following Monday. Pope John Paul 11 was the one who added the custom of the Pope baptizing babies on this day in the Sistine Chapel.
This celebration therefore marks the transition from the Liturgical season of Christmas into the Liturgical season of Ordinary Time.
Today is thus the first Sunday of Ordinary Time and although it is not celebrated, the prayers for its Mass will be said during this week beginning tomorrow. This wonderful celebration reveals to us who Jesus is. Also, in the Jordan scene we see the threefold presence of the Holy Trinity; the Spirit was seen in the form of a dove and the son was affirmed by the Father (cf John 3:21-22).
Beloved in Christ, the importance of this great event is characterized by the fact that all the three Evangelists of the Synoptic Gospels write about it with slight difference in their individual accounts, though in reality they all agree that this event marks the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus Christ. This notwithstanding, it is important to state that Jesus did not need the baptism of John, since it was meant for repentance and confession of sins; for although, He appeared in the ‘substance of our flesh’, He was absolutely sinless and impeccable.
Consequently, Jesus yielded to and accepted the baptism of John for the following reasons:
1. Jesus did it to show his unity and solidarity with the human race which He came to save. He accepted it so as to identify himself with humanity. He thus allowed himself to be numbered among sinners though He was without sin.
2. Jesus did it to sanctify the waters of baptism, so that our sins are washed away and we come to the state of grace in order to follow Him. He gave to the waters of baptism the power to beget sons and daughters of God by conferring upon it the power of true baptism which would remove the sins of the world: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sin of the world (cf John 1:29).
Beloved in Christ, the baptism of Jesus is therefore a pointer to our own baptism and a very significant event for us. Christian baptism thus remains valid whether done by immersion or aspersion or affusion at infancy or at adulthood. What is important remains the intention, the matter (water), and the form (words).
However, for Jesus, His baptism was not because He needed to be cleansed of some sin, but to become like us in all things but sin.
It is therefore equally important to note that many of the incidents which accompanied Christ’s baptism are symbolic of what happened at our baptism; at Christ’s baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon him, at our own baptism the Holy trinity took its abode in our soul. Also, at His baptism the heavens opened and Christ was proclaimed the ‘Beloved Son’ of the Father, at our own baptism we become adopted sons and daughters of God and heaven becomes our eternal home.
Again, it is important to affirm that for us, the celebration of baptism begins with the question ‘what name do you give to your child’- a reminder that this sacrament is about who we are and who we will be. Hence, to be baptized is to be defined in a new way. Baptism then is a transforming experience in which God lives in us and we live in God. We are empowered by God’s grace and favour to live as Disciples of Christ.
Beloved in Christ, as we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Church wishes to remind us that by our baptism God has given us the special privilege of being His adopted sons and daughters and as a consequence we are obliged to live lives that measure up to the demand of being a son and a daughter of God.