Is 40:1-5, 9-11 TITUS 2:11-14, 3:4-7 LUKE 3:15-16, 21-22
Johnny’s Mother looked out the window and noticed Him “playing church” with their cat. He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water. She called out, “Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!” Johnny looked up at her and said, “He should have thought about that before he joined my church.”
The Baptism of the Lord is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany, because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father. It is also an event described by all four gospels, and it marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The liturgical season of Christmas comes to a conclusion this Sunday with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.
Origin of baptism: Neither John nor Jesus invented baptism. It had been practiced for centuries among the Jews as a ritual equivalent to our Confession. Until the fall of the Temple in 72 A.D., it was common for Jewish people to use a special pool called a MIKVEH — literally a “collection of water” – as a means of spiritual cleansing, to remove spiritual impurity and sin. Men took this bath weekly on the eve of the Sabbath; women, monthly. Converts were also expected to take this bath before entering Judaism. The Orthodox Jews still retain the rite. John preached that such a bath was a necessary preparation for the coming Messiah. Jesus transformed this continuing ritual into the one single, definitive act by which we begin our life of faith. In effect he fused his divine essence with the water and the ceremony.
The baptism by John was a very important event in the life of Jesus. First, it was a moment of decision to begin public ministry. Second, it was a moment of identification with us sinners. Third, it was a moment of approval when his heavenly Father approved Jesus as His “beloved Son”. Fourth, it was a moment of conviction that his mission was to preach the good news of God’s love and salvation and to atone for our sins by becoming the “suffering servant.” Fifth, it was a moment of equipment. The Holy Spirit equipped Jesus by descending on him in the form of dove, giving him the power of preaching and healing.
The 13th century king of France, St. Louis IX (1226-70), insisted that the grand celebration of his birthday should be held on the day of his baptism, and not on his birthday proper. His argument was that baptism was the beginning of a life that would continue for eternity in the everlasting glory of heaven.
The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity. It reminds us of who we are and Whose we are. By baptism we become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, heirs of heaven and temples of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ baptism reminds us also of our mission: a) to experience the presence of God within us, to acknowledge our own dignity as God’s children, and to appreciate the divine presence in others by honoring them, loving them and serving them in all humility; b) to live as the children of God in thought, word and action. c) to lead a holy and transparent Christian life and not to desecrate our bodies (the temples of the Holy Spirit and members of Jesus’ Mystical Body), by impurity, injustice, intolerance, jealousy or hatred; d) to accept both the good and the bad experiences of life as the gifts of a loving Heavenly Father for our growth in holiness; e) to grow daily in intimacy with God by personal and family prayers, by meditative reading of the Word of God, by participating in the Holy Mass, and by frequenting the sacrament of reconciliation.
It is a day to thank God for the graces we received in baptism, to renew our baptismal vows and to preach Christ’s ‘Good News’ by our transparent Christian lives of love, mercy, service and forgiveness.