We conclude the season of Christmas with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, commemorating a very important event in the life of Jesus, and recalling a very important event in our own lives as Christians, our reception of the Sacrament of Baptism.
The great and humble prophet, John the Baptist, prepared the way for this new stage in Jesus’ mission. He called everyone to repentance and gave them a symbolic way of showing that they could be purified of sin and begin a new life, a “baptism of repentance.” People flocked to the Jordan to be baptized (“immersed”) in the water. John was not conferring the Sacrament that we have received. In explaining what he was doing, and how it differed from what Jesus would do, he said, “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John’s whole life was directed toward the coming of Jesus, whom he humbly referred to as “One mightier than I.”
The “mightier One” came to John along with the multitude of repentant sinners, to be baptized with them. Since he was without sin, he had no need of the baptism of repentance. Still, he submitted himself to the ministry of John and was immersed in the same water as everyone else. It is another manifestation of Jesus’ extraordinary self-emptying, which we have been pondering throughout the Christmas season. Jesus, God and Man, did not come in glory but in humility. He was born in the poverty of a stable and placed in a manger. As we ponder the Gospels, we are continually awed by the humility of Jesus, who chose to become man so that we may become sons and daughters of his heavenly Father.
When Jesus is baptized, the Father speaks from Heaven to identify him before everyone as his own eternally begotten Son: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” These words show that the ancient prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in the baptism of Jesus: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit.” Jesus is revealed as the promised “servant” who will serve as “a light for the nations.”
The eternal blessing of the Father is now revealed in time, and the public mission of Jesus begins. A new energy is released in the world, sparking a new beginning. Heaven is “torn open” and the Holy Spirit, appearing in the form of a dove, descends upon Jesus. The Spirit who hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation is now present over the waters of the Jordan: it is the sign of a new creation. Jesus was always fully one with the Holy Spirit, but this event reveals that the Spirit now dwells with the human family in a new way. His power is now active and mighty in the life of Jesus and in our lives.
The Sacrament of Baptism makes us a new creation. It is important that we understand and appreciate the great gift that has been bestowed on us. Baptism is the foundation of our whole Christian life. In Baptism, we are set free from all sin, reborn as sons and daughters of God, and incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us as in a sacred temple, and we are given a share in the mission of the Church.
As we continue reading the first chapter of Mark, we see that the Spirit immediately drives Jesus into the desert where he remains for forty days and forty nights. Jesus faces the temptations of Satan; he is surrounded by wild beasts; and he experiences the ministry of the angels. Baptism assures us that the same Spirit who was with Jesus in the desert is also with us in our desert journey, and the Spirit’s power will sustain us in our contests with Satan. As Christians who have received the light of faith, we too are called to be “light to the nations” by spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. As we allow the Spirit to transform us and work through us, the Father repeats his blessing over us: “With you I am well pleased.”
How do I allow the Spirit to transform me and work through me? As I ponder on the life of Jesus, am I awed at his great humility? How have I experienced the power of the Spirit sustaining me in my life’s journey?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.