First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord
Today we have reason to celebrate; we have a baptism. Not the baptism of a baby; it is the baptism of Christ. The baptism we celebrate is not new, but any baptism is a reason to celebrate. John the Baptist, a radical person of his time, teaches us about a baptism of repentance. He didn’t invent this idea, but he seems to have started a movement which was growing; growing so much that Herod was afraid of his popularity. Then Jesus comes along and wishes to be baptized. John believes himself to be unworthy to baptize Jesus. But Jesus will not hear of it. Jesus wants John to baptize him. Baptizing is John’s ministry. Immediately after Jesus comes up from the waters of baptism we, along with all those witnessing, perceive that there is more going on than just repentance and a ritual cleansing. We see that with Christ, the Holy Spirit is also involved in baptism. And “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
This experience is also what happens to us at our baptism. Even if we did not hear the voice of God or perceive the Holy Spirit coming down on us like a dove or something else, each time someone is baptized the heavens rejoice and we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ own. God says to the newly baptized, and to all those who are listening, “This is my son or this is my daughter with whom I am well pleased.” God has adopted you as rightful heirs to the Kingdom. And this is something to celebrate. Through our baptism we clearly see the connection with Jesus and his baptism, but if we do not understand the importance of who Jesus is than I wonder if we understand why this connection matters.
The real point of today’s story is not Baptism. Even though we see this action as important, the main point of this story is to reveal to the world who Jesus is. Jesus is the Son of God. To paraphrase the Catechism, we read that the Son of God is the only perfect image of God the Father and it is Jesus who shows us the nature of God. The nature of God is love. And it’s God’s love that sent Jesus to take on our human nature. It is through his human nature that we might be adopted as children of God. It is through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that we have the hope of salvation and unending life in him. This is the Good News.
This story is less about baptism and more about the voice from heaven and the Spirit which are the manifestations that allow the people to understanding that Jesus is God’s Son. This is an epiphany. An epiphany, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.” In some way an epiphany is similar to a eureka moment when someone strikes gold. It is exactly this personal revelation that we celebrate during the season of Epiphany.
Generally speaking, there are two main acts of Epiphany. One is the Wiseman bearing gifts while paying homage to the young King. At the moment of their arrival, the people around them realize that this poor boy, born in a manger, is no ordinary boy. He is the Christ Child.
Likewise, the other main epiphany moment is Jesus’ Baptism. In our Gospel there is a group of people following John the Baptist. This group, as well as others surrounding the Jordan River, whether onlookers or participant, witness the heavenly proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God. That is an epiphany moment for these onlookers. Before this moment they may have heard John and seen John claim that Jesus is greater than he. But some already wonder if John is the Messiah. When Johns tells everyone that Jesus is greater I can only imagine that few probably believed that John was of lesser standing than this new person who just walked into the river. Fewer people yet would have believed that he is the Son of God; until the spirit came down and the heavenly voice rang out. It is only at this moment that Jesus is manifest to them, to their understanding, that he is the Son of God.
As I mentioned, Baptism was John’s ministry but it was not his mission. John’s mission was to prepare the way of the lord. This baptism could be thought of as a handing off of a baton from one to the next. John is letting his followers know that this person is the Messiah. Jesus is the one we now need to follow. This moment is a pivotal time in which Jesus takes on his ministry, his mission. We do not hear much about what Jesus did as a child or a teenager. It is after his baptism that he goes into the wilderness and then into the world proclaiming the Good News to all the people. It is this point that Jesus seems to follow his ministry.
Through our baptisms we are entrusted to pick up this baton. We made a covenant in which we will, with God’s help, proclaim “the Good News of God in Christ.” We will “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” and we will “strive for justice and peace among all people.” These are a few of the proclamations that most of us have made in this covenantal relationship. We should not be like John and feel that we are unworthy to do our ministry. We are entrusted to take this baton and do the ministry we are called to do. Knowing that with God’s help we can do it. Knowing that we are worthy to do it because of what Christ has done for us.