Baptism of the Lord Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7 (Year A); Acts of the Apostles 10:34–38 (Year A); Luke 3:15–16, 21–22
Re-creation We must complete the re-creation of the world, which the Father began at the baptism of Jesus.
Ancient peoples had an unusual way of looking at the universe. They saw it as three worlds stacked on top of one another like pancakes.
The top world was where God lived. It was called the world of God. The middle world was where the human race lived. It was called the world of the living. The bottom world was where people went after they died. It was called the nether world, or the world of the dead.
Following the sin of Adam and Eve, the middle world the world of the living became more and more evil with each passing year.
Holy people prayed to God to come down from his world and do something about the terrible mess in their world.
Thus the prophet Isaiah prayed to God, saying, “Why don’t you tear the sky open and come down.” Isaiah 64:1
Thus, too, the psalmist prayed, “O Lord, tear the sky open and come down.” Psalm 144:5
It’s against this background that we must read today’s gospel. The three events it describes take place right after the baptism of Jesus.
First, the sky opens above Jesus. Second, a dove descends from the sky and hovers over Jesus and the water.
Third, a voice speaks from heaven, saying, “You are my own dear Son.”
Let’s look more closely at each of these three events.
First, the sky opens above Jesus. In the light of what we have just said, the meaning of this event is clear. What people asked God to do is now happening. God is tearing open the sky. He’s coming down from his world to do something about the terrible mess in their world.
In other words, the appearance and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan mark the dawn of a new era in human history.
This brings us to the second event that happens right after the baptism of Jesus. The Spirit of God in the form of a dove descends from the open sky and hovers over Jesus and the water.
This second event recalls the creation of the world, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters just before God created the universe. Describing that awesome moment, the Book of Genesis says:
In the beginning . . . the power of God was moving over the water. Then God commanded, “Let there be light”—and light appeared. Genesis 1:1–3
The Book of Genesis, therefore, holds the clue to the meaning of the second event. The dove hovering over Jesus and the water reveals that a new creation is about to take place. God is about to re-create our world and make it new again. God is about to fulfill the promise he made through the prophet Isaiah, when he said:
“I am making a new earth. . . . The events of the past will be completely forgotten. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create.” Isaiah 65:17–18
This brings us to the third and final event that happens right after the baptism of Jesus.
Besides the sky opening and the dove hovering over the water, a voice speaks from heaven, saying, “You are my beloved Son.”
The meaning of this third event is clear.
It reveals Jesus to be the Son of God. It reveals Jesus to be the “new Adam,’’ the firstborn creature of the “new creation.’’
Commenting on Jesus as the new Adam of the new creation, Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth:
“The first Adam, made of earth, came from the earth;the second Adam came from heaven. Just as we wear the likeness of the man made of earth, so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven.” 1 Corinthians 15:47, 49
And so three events take place right after the baptism of Jesus.
First, the sky opens, revealing that God is coming down from his world into our world.
Second, a dove hovers over the water and Jesus, revealing that God is beginning a new creation.
Third, a voice speaks, revealing that Jesus is the Son of God, the “new Adam’’ of the “new creation.’’
This brings us to a practical conclusion. It is this: We are citizens of two worlds, as it were. We bear the likeness of the first Adam; we also bear the likeness of the second Adam.
We have within our beings parts of both Adams. We experience the pull of the flesh of the first Adam and the pull of the Spirit of the second Adam.
This explains why, at times, we experience spiritual conflict. We experience a pull toward good and a pull toward evil. This should not surprise or discourage us. Paul himself experienced this same conflict. Referring to it in his Letter to the Romans, he wrote: “I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate.” Romans 7:15
And so today’s gospel highlights two facts.
First, it highlights the fact that 2,000 years ago God, in the person of Jesus, entered our world and began to re-create it.
Second, it highlights the fact that each of us is a part of God’s re-creation. God began our re-creation at the time of our baptism, when he united us to the body of his Son, Jesus.
But God left to us the task of completing our own re-creation. And the way we complete it is by prayer and by receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which we will share a few minutes from now.
Finally, only insofar as we unite ourselves to Jesus can we call God “our’’ Father. And only insofar as God is “our’’ Father can we share in his eternal life.
Let’s close by listening again to Peter’s words to us in today’s second reading:
“Whoever fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to him, no matter what race he belongs to. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.”
Series II Baptism of the Lord Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34–38; Luke 3:15–16, 21–22
The right time We must recognize and admit our need for Jesus’ help in our lives.
Sharon had been married to Rob for seven years. They had two beautiful children. But Sharon’s mother began to sense that her daughter was starting to go through a hard time in her marriage.
One day she called Sharon and said, “If I pay for a baby-sitter, will you go shopping with me tomorrow?’’ Sharon jumped at the invitation.
While eating lunch together the next day, after shopping, Sharon’s mother leaned over and said to her:
“I had a reason for asking you out today. I have something important to tell you. It’s something my mother told me and asked me to tell my daughter when the right time came. My mother called it: ‘Three guidelines to a happy marriage.’
“The first guideline is this: Never keep score in marriage. Don’t ever say to your spouse, ‘I’ve been doing more than my share. It’s not fair.’ The day you begin to keep score is the day your marriage begins to die.
“The second guideline is this: Never be too busy for your children. Don’t ever say to them, ‘Can’t you see I’m busy? Come back later.’ The day you become too busy for your children is the day your communication with them begins to die. “The third guideline is this: Never miss a day praying for your family. Don’t ever let 24 hours go by without talking to God about your family. The day you stop conversing with God about your family is the day you deprive them of the greatest gift a mother can give.’’
As her mother finished, Sharon took her mother’s hand. Her eyes filled up with tears as she said:
“Mom, that’s the most beautiful advice you could give me. But why did you wait seven years to tell me? Why didn’t you tell me the day Rob and I got married? It would have helped me so much so very much!’’
Sharon’s mother said:
“Honey, I wanted to tell you the day that you and Rob got married. Oh, how I wanted to tell you! I wanted to tell you with all my heart. But I knew it wasn’t the right time. I knew you weren’t ready then. I had to wait for the right time when you would understand what I was talking about.’’
Ilike that story. One reason why I like it, of course, is the beauty and wisdom it contains.
But I also like it for another reason. It helps me understand something very important about today’s feast: the Baptism of Jesus. When we read the Gospels carefully and prayerfully, we find ourselves asking this question: Why did Jesus wait so long to begin his preaching?
Why didn’t he begin his preaching in his twenties, rather than wait until he was thirty?
To put it another way, why did Jesus remain in Nazareth for thirty long years, when he knew the whole world was crying out for what he had to say? What in the world was Jesus waiting for?
The answer to that question is simple, but important. Jesus was waiting for John the Baptist to call the people to repentance.
Here we need some background information to understand why this was so.
Up until the time that John called the people to repentance, no Jews ever thought of submitting to baptism. Jews practiced baptism, but only for converts people who came into Judaism from some other faith. Commenting on this,William Barclay writes:
“No Jew ever conceived that he, a member of God’s chosen people . . . could ever need baptism. Baptism was for sinners, and no Jew ever conceived of himself as a sinner shut out from God.
“Now for the first time in their national history, the Jews realized their own sin and . . . [their own] need for God. Never before had there been such a unique national movement of penitence and of search for God.
“This was the very moment for which Jesus had been waiting. Men [and women] were conscious of their sin and conscious of their need for God.’’ The Gospel of Saint Matthew, Vol. 1
And this brings us back to the story of Sharon and her mother and how it helps us understand why Jesus waited so long to begin preaching to the people of Israel.
It was because the people were not yet ready for what Jesus had to say. Until they were conscious of their sins and conscious of their need for God, they would not understand Jesus’ message.
And this brings us to the most important point of all: how all this applies to our own lives.
Perhaps the most important application is this: Jesus can’t begin to act in our lives and transform them until like the people of Israel we are ready to let him do it.
Nor can Jesus do anything to make us ready. Only we can do that.
And the way we make ourselves ready is the way Sharon and Israel became ready. It is to recognize and to admit that we cannot go it alone in life. It is to recognize and to admit our need for Jesus Christ.
Only when we have reached this point can Jesus begin to act in our lives to transform us into what God made us to be.
This is the good news contained in today’s readings.
This is the important message that Jesus wants to share with us on this feast of his Baptism.
This is what we pray for as we return to the Lord’s Table to break bread together.
We pray that we may recognize and admit our need for Jesus. We pray that we may turn our lives over to him and let him transform us and bring us to a happiness that we never dreamed possible.
Series III Baptism of the Lord Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7 (Year A*); Acts of the Apostles 10:34–38 (Year A*); Luke 3:15–16, 21–22
Baptism John’s baptism was one of repentance; Jesus’ baptism was one of rebirth.
John said . . . , “I baptize you with water, but someone is coming who is much greater than I am. . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 3:16
Not far from the Dead Sea there’s a shallow spot in the Jordan River. As long as anyone could remember, this shallow spot had been a favorite crossing point for caravans of world traders and travelers.
As a result, the area around this spot became a popular place for people to gather and exchange world news.
It was to this place that John the Baptist came one day to begin his ministry of preaching and baptizing.
Dressed in an animal skin and burned brown from the desert sun, John had the appearance of a prophet of old.
His message was simple and basic: “God is about to do something big. Don’t be caught unprepared. Turn from your sins and be baptized.”
There was also something basic and simple about John. People came from all over to hear what he had to say. Soon some people began to wonder. “Could this unusual man be the promised Messiah?”
John knew exactly what they were thinking and said:
“[S]omeone is coming who is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to untie his sandals.”
John, of course, was referring to Jesus. He went on to explain, saying:
“I baptize you with water. . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke 3:16
John’s point was that his baptism with water was only a baptism of repentance.
It was only a “sign” that people who stepped into the river to be baptized by him repented their sins of their past. They wanted to have them washed away and begin new lives.
Jesus’ baptism with Spirit, on the other hand, would be something infinitely more than this.
It would be a baptism of rebirth. It would communicate to people the new life they were seeking.
Referring to this new life, Saint Paul would write to the Colossians:
At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. . . . You were at one time spiritually dead. . . . But God has now brought you to life with Christ. Colossians 1:21, 2:13
And so, through Baptism, God makes us spiritually alive in Christ. Explaining this incredible new life in Christ, Saint Paul says:
Christ is like a single body, which has many parts. . . .
All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27
Some early Christians compared baptism to “grafting.” They saw farmers graft a twig from one tree into another tree, allowing it to draw new life from the new tree. Romans 11:17
In a similar way, by Baptism we have been grafted into Christ’s Body, the Church, and are now sharing the very life of Christ.
This brings us to an important point. Our baptism is merely a first step.
What happens after Baptism is just as important, in its own way, as what happens during Baptism. To illustrate, take the image of “grafting” again.
Once a twig is grafted into a tree branch, it needs to grow and become one with the tree. If it doesn’t, it will soon die.
In a similar way, this is true of Baptism. Once we have been “grafted” into Christ’s Body, the Church, we must grow and become part of his Body, the Church. If we don’t, we will die. But how do we do this? How do we grow and become one with Christ’s Body?
Paul gives us the answer in his Letter to the Colossians. He says:
Since you have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, live in union with him.
Keep your roots deep in him, build your lives on him, and become stronger in your faith, as you were taught. And be filled with thanksgiving. . . .
So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another. . . . And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity. Colossians 2:6–7, 3:12–14
In other words, we grow and become one with Christ by imitating Christ into whose Body we have been grafted.
We treat others kindly, because that is how Christ treats them.
We treat others patiently, because that is how Christ treats them.
We forgive others from the heart, because that’s how Christ forgives them.
We love others because Christ loves them.
Paul concludes his instruction on baptism with these inspiring words. Let us conclude with them also. Paul writes:
You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God.
Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory! Colossians 3:1–4