Photo: Baptism of the Lord stained-glass window at St. Francis of Assisi, Greenlawn. CNS Photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near.” These encouraging words of Isaiah were spoken long ago. They find their fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ whose Baptism we celebrate this Sunday.
The celebration of the Baptism of the Lord officially ends the Christmas season. With Monday we return to Ordinary Time. Actually with God there is no “ordinary time” because God’s presence in our lives each day is indeed extraordinary and pure gift. The term “ordinary time” is a liturgical term to distinguish between the seasons of the Church year and the average Sunday. Still every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ which is the most unique event of human history, hardly average.
Jesus is not baptized because He needs to be washed clean of sin. Jesus was like us in all things but sin. Jesus is baptized as an act of humility to call attention to the new life that is taking place in His coming among us. John the Baptist points to Jesus as one more important than himself. By doing this he invites people to pay attention to what is happening. This feast rounds out the Christmas season because this feast signals the beginning of the public ministry of Christ.
I invite you to enter into this account of the baptism of Jesus. Try to use your imagination to go back into the time of Christ. For the moment put yourself into their time and space. Suspend for the moment the fact that you have the benefit of 2000+ years of Christian history and that you believe in Jesus Christ. You are standing on the river bank with a large crowd of people and you have been listening to John the Baptist speak about the coming of the Messiah. Suddenly there is a commotion and people move apart to make way for a man you have never seen before. John the Baptist seems quite startled and even a little uncomfortable. A hush comes over the crowd as this stranger enters the water and requests baptism. After some initial reluctance, John baptizes this man who humbly lowers His head. Then you are awestruck by what happens next: the heavens open and a mysterious but strong voice proclaims: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
I invite you to spend some time in quiet appreciation of this scene. Imagine that you are meeting Jesus Christ for the first time and allow yourself to enjoy His company and to absorb the witness of the Holy Spirit that this person before you is the Son of God, beloved of God, in whom God is well pleased. You might spend about fifteen minutes doing this.
Then apply the words spoken about Jesus to yourself. Allow God to say to you what He would like to say to you and what summarizes why He died on the Cross for you: “You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.” You might stay with this thought for about fifteen minutes. You know, it’s true!
May the Lord give you peace.
Rev. James M. McNamara