Baptism of the Lord – January 9, 2022 

As we bring the liturgical celebration of Christmas to a close today with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the heart of the mission of Jesus emerges with great clarity.   While the image of the manger of Bethlehem still graces our cathedral for one more day, the focus of today’s gospel takes us to the Jordan River and the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry during his baptism by John with the voice of his Father proclaiming, “You are my beloved Son.  With you I am well pleased.”

Yet, for all that this great feast conveys to us about the life and ministry of Jesus, today’s liturgy is replete with powerful reminders to us not just of Jesus’ baptism – but also of our own.  The blessing of ourselves with holy water as we entered the cathedral – the signing of ourselves at the beginning of mass in the name of the triune God – along with the sprinkling rite – all point to that gateway sacrament in and through which we entered into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

It is our relationship with Jesus, then, first initiated in baptism, that becomes the focus of what we are about today. Jesus is set apart in his baptism as the anointed one of God – as the bearer of God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and mercy. In our own baptism, the same Spirit that rested upon Jesus descended upon us, compelling us to assume the work of the gospel in imitation of Jesus and in service of our brothers and sisters. Let the words of the Father spoken to Jesus in the Jordan River speak to your hearts:  “You are my beloved Son.  You are my beloved daughter.  You – each of you!”

Today’s feast, then, both commemorates Jesus’ baptism and our own and calls us to embrace Jesus’ mission in our lives as his disciples.  In other words, baptism is not just a mile marker or sacred tradition that we ritualize as Christians.  It is a commitment on our part to reflect Jesus’ life of selfless service and unconditional love and to make it our own pattern for living.

And the life of Jesus that we consider today is no longer the sentimental image of a baby in a manger.  That image will be gone tomorrow.  The image we are called to focus upon is that of the preacher – the anointed one of God – who heals the sick – who feeds the hungry – who forgives the sinner – who lives the truth – who pursues the unlovable – and who gives his life so that others may find it – and in so doing, live lives of meaning, purpose and peace.

It’s rather interesting that in the verses immediately prior to those shared in today’s gospel that recounts Jesus’ baptism by John, John seems less concerned about encouraging his followers to be baptized and more intent upon calling them to action – to lives of service and care. “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”

In essence, the gospel reminds us that we who are recipients of Christ’s baptism are called, in turn, to be merciful – to assume not the role of judging others to determine their worthiness to participate in the life of God but, rather, the role of a selfless servant in imitation of the same Christ whose name we take as our own – witnesses of God’s love by the love we extend to others.

Earlier this year, in a reflection on baptism, Pope Francis asked a question of those gathered that I’d now pose to you.  “Who knows the exact date of your baptism?” …  Not too many of you.  Nor did many raise their hands in response to the Pope’s question.  …  Reacting to the crowds, Pope Francis continued, “Yet, it is the day on which we were saved, it is the day on which we became children of God. …  That day should be remembered each year as the day on which we became children of God.”  The Holy Father went on to explain why our baptism is so crucial.  “Our baptism changes us, gives us a hope, and empowers us to bring God’s redeeming love to all, particularly the poor, in whom we see the face of Christ. Our baptism has also gives us a share in the Church’s mission of evangelization; as disciples, we are also missionaries of Jesus’ good news.”

It is hardly by accident that on this day in which we focus upon baptism and the responsibility of all Christians to live the gospel of Jesus in an authentic and tangible manner that we offer thanks to so many of you who generously support the mission of our local Church through your gifts to our Diocesan Annual Appeal and through your lives of service and care for those who most in need.

Thank you for living your baptism so generously, particularly during these challenging times for our world and our Church.  Through your kindness, many who have been particularly burdened by the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have found consolation and support.

May this great feast be an opportunity for us to reflect upon who we are as baptized Christians and to recommit ourselves to the work of evangelization, proclaiming the life of Jesus to a world so desperately in need of his saving grace and peace.