13 January 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Isaiah 40, 1-5, 9-11 + Psalm 29 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Luke 3, 15-16; 21-22
A few weeks ago, I was sitting with the RCIA group, and it was time for some open questions. Someone in the group asked why Jesus had to be Baptized. It seemed strange to this man that Jesus would be baptized as though he needed to repent or be saved. I always love the questions that get asked at RCIA, because they so often touch on things that those of us who were Baptized as infants and raised in Catholicism never think to ask, but probably should. The paradox of the Christ’s Baptism is in every way another Epiphany or manifestation of who Jesus Christ is for us. It’s a good question, and the answer leads us deeper into the wonder of the Incarnation, the wonder and the profound mystery of God becoming one of us.
For the earliest followers of Christ who were living side by side with the followers of John the Baptist, the very thought that their Lord had undergone baptism by John was embarrassing and troublesome. There was some competition between the two groups, and this issue pushed it further. They wondered, and we should too, how the Immaculate Lamb, the very Holy Jesus might have submitted to this act of purification. Could it possibly mean that he too was part of the unclean, guilty, and sinful humanity?
The Church’s best answer to the question is simply this feast itself, and its placement as the conclusion of the Christmas Season. This feast in a sense is a great AMEN to what we as a church have celebrated since Advent began. What we have here is a concrete example of God stooping down in loving kindness to us. What we have here is a deeper revelation of what it means for the Word to become Flesh. There is in a gesture, an act of humiliation on God’s part as an introduction to what is to come with the final humiliation and death on a cross.
When we look back at the Baptism of Jesus from the view point of his Crucifixion, it begins to make sense. What is revealed through Jesus, from his baptism to his death is the perfect love God for us. At his Baptism, the Savior chose to be one of us right where we are. He chose to enter into solidarity with us sinners though we are. The whole destiny of Jesus begins in the waters of the Jordan at the hands of John, and this feast and what it means can carry us on to Easter.
There is then cause for rejoicing here, because no matter where we are, who we are, and no matter what we have done, Christ has been there and done it with us. Ours is a God who enters the darkness again and again when we are in the darkness in order to lead us into the light.
Now we know what it really is we have celebrated since December 24th. Now we see the plan of God revealed in the simplest of ways: a plan to be with us, to be within us, and to raise us up through the waters of death to the Light of the Kingdom. Think about it through this week, and think about what it means for God to be so humbled and so humiliated as to stand with sinners who need to be purified. The real purification will not be by water, but by his blood poured out for us.