The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated January 10th this year and thus liturgically closing the Christmas season. The baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by John the Baptist was a historical event and an invitation to a mystery. The significance of the baptism of our Lord is an event that is renewed everyday in the lives of every baptized person. It is in a sense our feast too and appropriately do we celebrate it. Saint Paul says that Jesus is the first-fruit of many brothers. It is in this context that we should interpret the events of his life as narrated by the Gospel writers. The Scriptures are not historical books, as far as historical books are defined, although some events found in them can be historically proven. Scriptures, and in particular the Gospels, were written “so that you may believe” as St. John the Apostle would say at the end of his Gospel.
Jesus came to be with us, “Emmanuel,” so that we can learn to suffer in hope. The comfort promised by the Lord is not the comfort resulting from the absence of trials and tribulations but a supernatural joy which comes from our knowledge that suffering can have its meaning and purpose. The coming of the Lord at Christmas was the fulfillment of a much anticipated hope from all forms of bondage caused by our human weaknesses and sins: hopelessness, fear, sorrow, helplessness, feeling unloved, emptiness and more. This promise of comfort is given to us because above all else, our God is the Good Shepherd, and “like a shepherd he feeds his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” Such is the nature of our God.
Jesus’ baptism was an act of entering fully into the fullness of our humanity- a humanity tarnished by sin and in need of redemption. To be fully one with us, he humbled himself by identifying with our sinful nature. He made himself inferior to John whose own unworthiness before the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, John himself acknowledged. But so as to fulfill the plan of God, it was made so. “Let is be so for now,” Jesus would say. Docility, meekness, submission- all necessary elements to accomplish the Will of God. Jesus’ baptism brought his humility, our baptism on the other hand, brought us dignity. We are no longer sheep without a shepherd, we were made into children of God. What marvelous exchange! All because He loves us. Saint Peter explains this when he says that this is because God shows no partiality. He gives himself freely to those who would accept him and open themselves to the gifts God brings. But the gifts bring with them responsibilities. “To one who is given much, much will be required.” Christ faced the demands of his baptism even when they landed him on the Cross. We cannot choose otherwise if we are to be his true followers. St. Paul explains that “the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age...” In other words, by our own baptism, we have contracted a covenant with God, to live our lives according to the image and example of His Son, who even though sinless, went to be baptized to set an example for us. He assumed our humanity so that we can have a share in His divinity. We do not belong to ourselves. Our lives are not our own.
St. John baptized with water and Jesus with the Spirit. It is the same in our own lives. All the good works we do, all the good intentions we have are dead, if they do not proceed from the motives of faith, love of God and love of neighbor for the sake of God. The Spirit himself gives life. The Spirit himself brings to flower what we have sown. We are only his gardeners. The Spirit reveals himself in ordinary ways but we must have the eyes of faith and the ears to hear the manifestations of the Spirit.
In the midst of sufferings in the world, in the midst of darkness and trials of life, in the midst of burden and hopelessness, we remember these words of our Father: “You are my beloved son (or daughter).” These will bring us comfort, hope and assurance that we are never alone or forgotten. No matter how gray our hairs turn out to be, how wrinkled and old we become, how frail and sick, we remain always a child before the Father who loves us first and always.