Feast of the Baptism of the Lord / A / 2020
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
With the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrate today, we bring to a conclusion the Christmas/Epiphany liturgical season.
1) It all started with Advent. Our Advent preparation led us to the great Feast of Christmas—the feast of the Incarnation—in which Christ is born into the world—heaven touching earth, eternity into time, and nothing ever the same.
2) This was followed by the Feast of the Holy Family—Jesus, fully God and fully human, growing up like you and me, in a family, though Jesus would also "redefine" his family to include all those who "hear the word of God and keep it."
3) From there, we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany—a word that means "manifestation." Jesus is "manifested," revealed, not only to the Jewish people as Messiah and Lord, but also to the Gentiles, to you and me.
4) And finally the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord—in which Jesus is recognized, "manifested," as God’s Chosen One, as God’s "beloved Son."
We might call all of this—from Christmas to the Baptism of the Lord—the Epiphany Mystery, because each feast reveals, makes manifest, some unique aspect of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness—the "good news for all the people."
Today, we focus on the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Does it seem a little unusual to you that Jesus would be baptized? It must have seemed a little unusual to the early Church—could Jesus have sinned?—but they didn’t try to sweep it under the carpet. Instead, it is included in all four Gospels. This indicates that the Church considers this event very important, even if the circumstances are difficult to explain. So what do we learn from this feast?
John describes his baptism as a "baptism of repentance"—repentance for sin. When people came to John for Baptism, they wanted their sins forgiven. When Jesus approaches John for Baptism, John shares our discomfort and says, "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?"
The response of Jesus is somewhat cryptic: "Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." It is fitting.
To understand this, we have to remember the Christmas Mystery, that is, that Jesus was born into the world—to save us from our sins. To accomplish this, Jesus identified himself with sinful humanity—he became one with us (2 Cor 5:21: "For our sake, he was made sin who did not know sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in him").
From the very beginning of his public ministry, Jesus stood side by side with sinners—even at the Jordan River—to show that he welcomes sinners, eats with them, and is even baptized with them. Where sinners are, that is where Jesus is found.
To make clear that this is God’s will, Mt tells us that the "heavens were opened" and the "Spirit of God" came upon Jesus: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Anointed in the Spirit, Jesus "went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."
The Baptism of Lord assures us that the ministry of Jesus, and the ministry of the Church, includes all of us: those who are sinners, those who are marginalized, those who are "in most need of God’s love and mercy."
As St. Paul tells us, Jesus took our sins and nailed them to the tree—and plunged them into the Jordan River—that we might have life, and have it to the fullest. And that is the Good News.