Feast of the Baptism of Lord

POST BY AWentworth

We are immersed in God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit surround us.  The Holy Trinity made us, holds us in being and shares divine life with us. God is the frame for all that happens to us, everything we do.  At the incarnation, the Son wades into the world and sanctifies it by his presence.  Sent by the Father, he launches into redeeming us and transforming us.  The Spirit continues to float over the waters [1], sanctifying and purifying.  As soon as Jesus was baptized he came up from the water and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him.  And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him’ [2].  God incarnate carries forward the divine plan.  Jesus plunges in among us so that he can lift us up into the life of God. None of this need have happened except that it is what God has always wanted.

It is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands [3].  We are baptised into the goodness which the Lord teaches us and demonstrates to us.  Jesus shows a humility even more remarkable than that of John the Baptist.  John tried to dissuade him. It is I who need baptism from you, he said, and yet you come to me [4]John knew that his role was to prepare the way for someone greater.  However the greatness and self-effacement of Christ are in his state being divine and his not clinging to his equality with God but emptying himself to assume the condition of a slave [5].  The one who was born obscurely in a stable was recognised by the angels, the shepherds and by magi.  The Son came into the world without drawing attention to himself. He does not cry out or shout aloud or make his voice heard in the streets [6].  His light shone around, nevertheless.  There was an epiphany.  Now Jesus enters the waters in which all must be baptised. John gave in to him [7].  Consent to the baptism of Jesus Christ is betokened by cooperation in his work.  The Lord enlists companions as he begins to live publicly his obedience to the Father.  God immerses himself in lives which grace renders responsive and fruitful.  

Why did God make us?  Why does Christ save us?  We are made so that we can be happy with God forever.  That happiness includes the understanding which Jesus confers on us and the loving service which he shows us how to offer.  Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil [8].   Our being created, our being baptised and our being redeemed from evil are all part of God’s closeness to us.  I have taken you by the hand and formed you [9].  The mission of Christ impresses itself on many different lives. Anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him [10]. Our creator comes down among us and cleanses us.  I have appointed you…to free those who live in darkness from the dungeon [11].  Baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are now patterned on the Trinity. Taught all we need to know by Jesus, we are drawn by him into the holiness of divine life.

Christ’s presence in the water of baptism makes it powerful.  At the epiphany in Bethlehem there was an allusion to Jesus’ future burial. The embalming myrrh was among the gifts offered. We are enabled to recognise that the incarnation means that God-is-with-us in death as well as life.  At the baptism of Jesus there is a further revelation of new life and a fresh looking forward to entombment and resurrection.  To be baptised is to go down into the grave with Christ and to rise with him in glory. John the Baptist prefigures the work of those who will bury the body of the crucified Jesus.  As the Lord came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened there was a foretaste of the joy of proclaiming Christ is risen.  Fearlessly, the Lord’s voice resounded on the waters [12]. John’s baptism of repentance expands into the holiness which the Spirit of God continues to bring about. The Baptist bathed the Lord in the Jordan.  Jesus rose up in solidarity with all whom he rescues from sin and death. Many are the amended lives which he empowers.  He does not break the crushed reed nor quench the wavering flame [13]. All who are baptised in Christ are purified from sin. We receive not merely the wisdom which is in the prophecy of John the Baptist but also the teachings of Jesus which fulfil it.  The life of the Trinity is shared with us in the Spirit by the Son.  He entered the world, suffered and died and then rose again and ascended to the Father.  

Baptism takes us deep into the life of the Lord. We are baptised in Christ with water.  Jesus is himself the purifying and life-giving element into which we joyfully sink. All our sacramental life has the quality of a meeting with God who has lovingly made himself present in our material world.  In holy communion, for example, we meet Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine.  In the sacraments where there is an anointing, the Lord himself is in the holy oil with which we are daubed. The heavens opened as Jesus came up from the waters of the baptism.  He did not however immediately ascend to his place with the Father and the Spirit. A ministry was being inaugurated with divine approval in which there would be much service of others, much teaching and healing before the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. For us, our being joined to Christ in the sacraments is both a strengthening experience of the divine life to which we look forward and a renewal, under grace, of our commitment to doing all that is commanded of us now.  

Humbly, God immerses himself in us and in our activities.  Jesus pours out divine life to transform us.  By living as he teaches and enables we find ourselves surrounded by God.  He reveals himself to us.  His glory shines out.  The Lord sat enthroned over the flood [14].  When Jesus comes up from the water of baptism, we accompany him not so much back onto dry land as into the flow of his mission.  We walk with him, going deeper and learning from the Son what the Father has said and what the Spirit continues to teach.  God-made-human, having died and risen, rescues us and draws us into an ever more profound and happier new life.  I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring true justice to the nations [15]. All are welcome to experience this goodness, to live by this truth and to submit to a judgement which is merciful and just.

Everything could have been quite different.  The world might never have been created.  We might never have been born.  Jesus did not have to be baptised by John.  God has made the world and us and keeps all in being.  He sends his Son to us to save us and bring us back.  He decides how this is to come about.  Jesus teaches us. He gives us new life and shows us how it should be lived.  He was baptised. He went about doing good [16].  He suffered and died. Jesus rises again.  We imitate him as much as we can.  Our sacramental and moral life have Christ as their pattern.   His Spirit dwells in us.  The Trinity, in whose names we are baptised, is immersed in us.   We are going deeper and deeper into God.  Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near [17]. Christ who is one with the Father and the Spirit shares divine life with us.  Humbly the Son dives into the abyss where we have fallen and brings us back.  He brings us back not merely to the surface but up and away to the lengths of God [18].

Homily by Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]  Genesis 1.2

[2]  Matthew 3.16

[3]  Matthew 3.15

[4]  Matthew 3.14

[5]  Philippians 2.6

[6]  Isaiah 42.2

[7]  Matthew 3.15

[8]  Acts 10.38

[9]  Isaiah 42.6

[10] Acts 10.35

[11] Isaiah 42.7

[12] Psalm (29) 28.3

[13] Isaiah 42.3

[14] Psalm (29) 28.10

[15] Isaiah 42.1

[16] Acts 10.38

[17] Isaiah 55.6

[18] Christopher Fry 1907-2005 A Sleep of Prisoners 1951 ‘The human heart can go to the lengths of God..’ line 1