Baptism of the Lord, Year B – Sunday, January 11, 2015

Baptism of the Lord, Year B – Sunday, January 11, 2015

Baptism of the Lord, Year B – Sunday, January 11, 2015

(The readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 or Isaiah 55:1-11; Acts 10:34-38 or 1 John 5:1-9; Matthew 1:7-11)

Christmas has come and gone, and the Magi are now off on the distant horizon, having returned to their native lands by another road. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord seemingly brings an end to the Christmas season.

I remember hearing years ago before the fall of the Iron Curtain, that President Mikhail Gorbachev had been baptized and that our faith tells us his baptism must make a difference. His grandmother had him secretly baptized by a Russian Orthodox priest. His grandmother/mother put an icon of Jesus on the wall in every room in the house. Gorbachev’s father was a staunch Communist and put a picture of Stalin next to each picture of Jesus. Three years later the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th 1989. Then on December 1st 1989 we watched President Gorbachev being driven into the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II. The two met and spoke in the Pope’s private library for seventy minutes. That is the power of the Holy Spirit received at baptism. Baptism counts. Baptism makes a difference.

Our Gospel account today of Jesus’ baptism reminds us of our own baptism. Why did Jesus ask John for baptism? Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins and Jesus did not need forgiveness. No wonder that in Matthew’s account John objects to giving Jesus baptism, “It is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me.”

But Jesus insisted on being baptized showing us his humility. All of Jesus’ followers would be baptized and so Jesus too wanted to be baptized to show his unity with all of us. A new family was formed at Pentecost, the Church, and baptism was the means of entering the Church. Jewish children were not baptized, Jewish boys were circumcised 8 days after birth and girls had a naming ceremony but the followers of Jesus would be distinguished by baptism.

What difference does baptism make to us? When Jesus was baptized the Father spoke and said, “You are my Son, the beloved; my favor rests on you.” When we are baptized the Father says over each of us, “You are my son/daughter, my beloved; my favor rests on you.” Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit when he was baptized in the Jordan and we are anointed with the oil of chrism during our baptism and like Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit also.

These are some of the instructions for the newly baptized in Jerusalem in the early Church.
“Now that you have been baptized into Christ and have put on Christ, you have become conformed to the Son of God …since you share in Christ, it is right to call you ‘Christs’ or anointed ones… You have become ‘Christs’ by receiving the sign of Holy Spirit…When you emerged from the pool of sacred waters you were anointed in a manner corresponding to Christ’s anointing. That anointing is the Holy Spirit… Christ was anointed with…the Holy Spirit…and you have been anointed with chrism because you have become fellows and sharers of Christ…But be sure not to regard the chrism merely as ointment…When the Holy Spirit has been invoked on the holy chrism it is no longer mere or ordinary ointment; it is the gift of Christ…It is applied to your forehead and organs of sense with a symbolic meaning; the body is anointed with visible ointment, and the soul is sanctified by the holy, hidden Spirit.” 
(Office of Readings for Friday of the Easter Octave)
Those were beautiful words from the instructions given in the early Church in Jerusalem reminding the newly baptized that after baptism they share deeply in the grace of Jesus. Vatican II in the 1960’s has once again reminded all the faithful that they share in the priesthood of Christ. During baptism when the child is anointed with the oil of chrism, part of the prayer for the anointing is;“As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

Because of our baptism we are all united in Jesus. That is why Paul in his letters makes statements like, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, you are all one in Christ.” (Gal 3:28).While all the baptized share in the priesthood of Christ, only those who are ordained priests in the Sacrament of Holy Orders can administer the sacraments.So what is your vocation since baptism? Your vocation is to witness Jesus to the world.

I came across a story from the early Church that is very fitting for us on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During the third century, Cyprian of Carthage wrote to his friend Donatus: “It’s a bad world, Donatus, in which we live. But right in the middle of it I have discovered a quiet and holy group of people. They are people who have found a happiness that is a thousand times more joyful than all the pleasures of our sinful lives. These people are despised and persecuted, but it doesn’t matter to them. They are Christians, Donatus, and I am one of them.”

As we remember Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, let us echo Cyprian’s words without fear: “We too are one of them.” Our own baptism invites us to recall the past with gratitude, to accept the future with hope and the present moment with wonder and awe. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are invited to the banquet of the Lord, so lavishly spread out before us. Our sharing in the Eucharist bonds us together with our brothers and sisters who have been immersed into the life of Christ through the waters of baptism. Let us pray that the grace of our own baptism will help us to be light to others and to the world, and give us the strength and courage to make a difference.