Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord: 2016

When Jesus also had been baptized

The reason that we call January, as is the case with the names of all the months,  is because ancient Roman religion dedicated the first month of the year to the god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions,  and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. Janus presided over beginnings and endings.

So it must have seemed to the first pagan converts to Christianity that the Baptism of the Lord was a natural celebration to have in January, since before all else this feast is a feast of beginnings and ends and of transition.

Today is the ending of the hidden life of Jesus and the beginning of his public life and we can see already what his public life will be like and where it will lead to. St. Luke tells us that the people were ‘in expectation’ and today we should be in expectation as well.

First of all what happens at his baptism is Jesus identifies himself with sinful men by the very fact that he allows himself to be baptized. The baptism of John was not intended for the righteous, the Pharisees. John does not welcome those who imagine themselves to be righteous: “when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance’” John’s baptism was for those who knew that they needed to repent.

“Jesus also was baptized.” Jesus allows himself to be baptized, to be associated with the sinful. We see already the company he will keep, those whom he will eat with, forgive and heal and finally die for, you and me. In his first public act he makes clear who are his people and who are not. Later through his Church, through Christian baptism he will receive his own. Not that this is an easy pass on sin, a wink at sin, but the humiliating descent into the water which is both death and new life. 

If baptism, as St. Paul says, is really a sharing in his death and burial and rising to new life, then his baptism is already a prophecy of his own death and resurrection. Jesus will say “can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Everything that happens between his baptism and death is for us sinners. The baptism in the Jordan is a baptism ‘with the Holy Spirit” – the baptism of the Cross is a baptism ‘with fire.’ The first is the befriending of sinners who need cleansing; the second burns away the sin of the whole world.

The Eastern Church calls the Baptism of the Lord “the Theophany” –the revelation of God --  because the Triune God confirms the mission of Jesus: the Father sends his ‘beloved Son’ to save and the Holy Spirit anoints the Son to fulfill the promise of the Father.

The miraculous theophany The Sacrament of Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost gives us a share in Jesus’ first baptism and his final baptism in blood. Again and again through the Sacrament of Baptism   the heavens open and the voice is heard “this is my beloved son’. Again and again the gift of the Holy Spirit is given as the baptized are anointed. Again and again the those being baptized and God reveals the completeness of his determination to save mankind not because of their deeds but because of his mercy.The beginning and end of the Gospel.

When Jesus also had been baptized

1 comment:

LSP said...

Thanks for that -- have you read Farrer on the Baptism? (Triple Victory, I think, excellent)