First Sunday after the Epiphany
In the life of Christ, His baptism in the Jordan is an event of the highest importance, because it represents a significant phase in the work of redemption. We know that the liturgy of the ecclesiastical year commemorates all the phases of Christ’s redemptive work; and recently, during the season of the Nativity, we have reflected on His coming into the world, poor and solitary in a grotto at Bethlehem, and on His circumcision. Now His baptism in the Jordan marks the divinely inaugurated beginning of Our Lord’s public life. Indeed, Saint Peter states that at His baptism, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel, He was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Christ, the Messiah, which means the Anointed One: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and He went about doing good and healing all who were in the power of the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38) An anointing has always been the symbolic, visible representation of an intimately established union, a specific, defined alliance or covenant between God and one of His servants. God the Father speaks at this moment, to make clear who this Person is. The foretold Saviour is His Divine Son, begotten from all eternity: “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
A feast day marking the Baptism of Jesus has been celebrated in the Church since the second century A.D. It is not only a celebration of the presence of the Holy Spirit, but also has come to be seen as the true beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth. But to make this day more than just the celebration of a moment in history, we need to remind ourselves of the connection which each of us has – through our Baptism – to Jesus himself, and to the whole Body of Christ.
Baptism played a great and often dramatic role in the lives of converts to Christianity in its early centuries. The faith was new. The preaching of the evangelists made clear that those who came in were leaving an old life behind. And Baptism often marked a great cultural change–even a separation from family–for those who entered in.
But after centuries of Christian history and Christian influence on everyday culture, the full meaning of the sacrament of Baptism can often be lost in the shuffle of busy lives. For those more or less of the faith, it can be little more than a nice custom: something taken for granted and limited to a specific date. For many of us, our Baptism is little more than a date in our personal history.
Yet if we listen carefully to the Gospel and other New Testament messages, it becomes clear that Baptism is dynamic, not static. The message of the Gospel, and certainly of the Baptism of Jesus, is that Baptism is the beginning of the story.
As a sacrament (‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’) Baptism is the entry rite into the Christian community, by which God adopts us as his children. When a new member – whether an infant, a child, or an adult – is brought into the Body of Christ, all of us present are made aware that we already possess a bond which can never be broken: a connection with all those of the faith who have gone before us, a connection with all those of the faith scattered everywhere over the globe, and a connection to all those of the faith who are yet to come. This renewable gift of God transcends time, place, culture, race, and all the other separations which limit us.