12 January 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 42, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 29 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Matthew 3, 13-17
The Baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist has by this time in history lost its shock value, and hardly raises an eye-brow much less a question. But at the time Matthew was writing, there was a serious issue that he wants to put to rest. The disciples of John used this event to justify their continued following of John’s preaching since John was for them the real prophet because John baptized Jesus. To address and attempt to settle that issue, Matthew has a dialogue between Jesus and John over whether Jesus should submit to baptism by John.
However, who is more important is not really the issue here. The fact that Jesus accepted the Baptism of John turns out to be the first revelation of how Jesus presented himself as Emmanuel: an unimaginable, exceptionally humble, incarnation of God in the midst of humanity. His baptism reinforces the message we have heard in the Christmas story. God has chosen to be with us not as an awesome ruler of the universe, but as one who chooses solidarity with us in all our weakness. The Baptism of Jesus reveals Emmanuel as one of us.
This is the unique message of Christian people unlike every other world religion. We can imagine and can accept a God incarnate, sharing all our limitations in order to reveal limitless love. Here is the unique Christian God: a Trinity. In this moment of Baptism, the Trinity is revealed. God speaks, Jesus stands, and the Holy Spirit descends up on him.
As a faithful Jew, Jesus perceived that John was a prophet. This baptism is a proclamation that God is up to something and John was an integral part of it. In asking for baptism, Jesus was seeking and submitting to God affirming John’s message. The detail of this baptism shows us how discernment of God’s will confirmed that Jesus was doing the right thing. It’s a dramatic scene. Imagine it. He came from the water the heavens were opened for him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming upon him. He knew the Scriptures. He knew that he was called to be the servant of God Isaiah had prophesied. That voice, heard again later at the Transfiguration, was a public confirmation that Jesus was the longed-for son of Israel, the son in whom God was well pleased.
What this says to us is that God’s solidarity with us is total. God is with us in every circumstance: in hope and love, in weakness and sin, disgrace and desperation. The way to union with God necessarily passes through this kind of presence Jesus shows us. If we want to know God we can only do so with solidarity, through sharing one another’s need and weakness so profoundly that we also share one another’s joys. Then we will know God because God will be acting in and through us. The baptism of Jesus brings Jesus into communion with us. Our baptism invites us into union with God and all of God’s own. The baptism we tell of today was a sign of his communion with us. Our baptism calls us into communion with God and one another. That’s all there is to it.