Posted by: Fr Chris | January 6, 2023

Baptism of the Lord

In the early Church, January 6 was the feast of the birth of Christ, the coming of the Magi, and the baptism of the Lord: three events separated in terms of natural time, but in liturgical time they were kept together. Why? Because the birth of the Lord led directly to his revelation to the Gentiles in the person of the Magi, and both events led directly to the baptism and the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and the beginning of His public ministry. While in the secular world Christmas has become its own big gift-giving extravaganza, liturgically the whole celebration of Christmas leads directly to the Theophany and the baptism. Just like Easter Sunday is meant to lead us to Pentecost, Christmas is meant to lead us to the bigger feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

First, we have the word today repeated over and over again. Why? The Church inherited many things from the Jews and Judaism, and one of those is the whole idea of sacred time. We are not repeating something from 2,000 years ago, but rather we are at the original event, and so are present at the baptism. 

Secondly, it is a theo-phany. It is a manifestation of God, since, as the troparion makes clear, worship of the Trinity was revealed. Jesus steps into the Jordan River, and is revealed as the full Son of God. God the Father speaks, the Son is revealed, and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, in the form of a dove.

Third, we have the transformation of water. Water can give life when we drink it, especially in a desert. It can bring death, as in a flood. Now the water, through Christ’s descent into it, and today through the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes a defense against the wickedness of the devil and the vehicle through which we are incorporated into the Holy Trinity. Water is used for baptism, and through the mystery of baptism, through that first sacrament that we receive, we are brought into eternal life. This is why the priest is invited into our homes to perform the annual rite of house blessings. The holy water sanctified today is used to sanctify the house, to bring God’s presence into the home, to drive away forces of evil. This is why holy water is so important, because the tap water is changed by the Holy Spirit so as to be used by Christ’s Church to bring salvation and protection.

Finally, we have the full revelation of who Jesus of Nazareth is. John the Baptizer, who worshipped Jesus when they were each in the wombs of their mothers, proclaimed how great Jesus would be. All four Gospels have a similar sentence:  

Matthew: after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. 

Mark: After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

Luke: one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

John: among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

John is still revered as the last of the prophets by the Jews. There had not been a preacher like him in 400 years. In the gospels it is clear that many people hoped he was the messiah – that is how powerful his call to repentance was, the call to conversion. But he made it very clear that he was the voice in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord.  Jesus himself says that John is the greatest man born.

As awesome as he was, as powerful a preacher as he was, he says in all four gospels that he was not worthy to undo the sandal straps of the one he was preparing for. That job was reserved for the lowest slave in a rich house, because shoes got filthy in the streets of the towns. The sandals could be covered in dirt, animal manure, garbage, all kinds of stuff, so that was the worst job in a household. But John makes it clear that compared to the one whose way he was preparing, he was the lowest of the low. There simply was no comparison between John and Jesus.

All of that is confirmed by the events of today. God’s voice comes from heaven, confirming that Jesus of Nazareth is actually His Son, and the Son who brings joy to the Father. The power of God, the spirit of the living God, comes down upon Christ’s head, in the form of a dove, the bird that represented both purity and God’s promises to the Jews. And as the song says, John humbly steps aside, sending his disciple Saint Andrew the first-called to follow the Lord, and Andrew of course will go get his brother Peter, the future rock of the Church of Christ.

We are baptized into the Trinity, and in Chrismation, Confirmation, we are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Baptism into the Trinity is not an end in and of itself  – we are meant to be people on a mission. The apostles who are called by Christ are not initiated into a secret religion for the chosen few, but prepared by Him to be transformed by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost so as to preach the good news to the whole world. Our houses are not blessed by the priest so as to be little islands locked away, but to be strongholds of faith, houses of light and goodness and truth.

As Catholic Christians, we are empowered with the fullness of God’s revelation to proclaim the good news to the human race that salvation is at hand. Yes, we belong to a Church that has been rocked by scandals, but the Church has always been rocked by scandals, starting with the betrayals, not only by Judas but also the denial by Peter himself. It is home to sinners who are trying to become saints. It is the refuge of sinners, of sinners who are trying to fulfill the mission entrusted to them, of teaching and healing and guiding and loving the people of our broken world and bringing them into the embrace of our loving Father in heaven. Let us ask our Lord tonight in Holy Communion for the courage to go forward in mission, to fulfill the charge given to us to be His hands in the world. And let us be, through the power of the Holy Spirit who descended onto Jesus that day, people of prayer, and people who are not afraid to be converted away from sinful behavior into lives of goodness and faithfulness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: