My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
Today we celebrate the end of the liturgical season of Christmas with this beautiful feast of our Lord’s baptism.
And I was thinking that it is interesting that all through the Christmas season we center on Jesus when he was a newborn — an infant. And today, in this beautiful feast, we see him all grown up, and we are called to reflect on his divinity.
In a sense, what we were contemplating during the Christmas season was Jesus as the son of Mary and Joseph. And as we just heard in the Gospel, he is not only the Son of Mary. He is the Son of God.
Our Gospel today calls us to enter into the scene along the banks of the River Jordan.
Now, as we know, we are coming and contemplating the Baptism of the Lord. But as we know, John’s baptism — the baptism that he administered or celebrated with the people — was not like our Sacrament of Baptism.
John’s baptism was a symbol. People were coming to John’s baptism to show God that they know they are sinners. They come to show him they want forgiveness, they want a new beginning in their lives.
So, thinking of that and reflecting in today’s Gospel, when we see Jesus coming to the river to be baptized, we have to ask — why? Why is he going for the baptism of John? Because he does not need forgiveness. He does not need to make a new conversion. We know that. So why does he do it?
Because, my dear brothers and sisters, he wants to show us how close he is to us. He came to share our human condition, to be like us in everything except in sin.
So, in this beautiful expression of humility, he enters into the waters of the Jordan — to take our sins upon himself, and to sanctify the waters of baptism, so that they can take away our sins.
So today, I think especially as I was saying before, we need to understand more the beautiful humility of Jesus.
This is who he is. Jesus is always coming down “to our level” to make it easier for us to love him and to follow him. He is always reaching down to lift us up.
He humbled himself to become a little Child for us. And at the end of his life, as we know, he humbled himself to wash his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.
So here, at the very start of his public ministry, we see Jesus humbling himself to be baptized by John.
So let us always keep in mind that Jesus is close to us. He is like us in everything except sin.
But then as we continue contemplating this scene, as we just heard, something amazing happened.
After his baptism, Jesus is praying — he was probably still standing in the river. And suddenly, the clouds open up and the Holy Spirit comes down upon him, looking like a dove. And then we hear the voice of God the Father:
You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.
The first thing that is important, at least for me, and I think it’s beautiful is just that this happened while Jesus was praying.
The heavens opened up — because Jesus prayed and because he asked God to show his face to us, he asked God to speak to us.
Jesus was praying. What a beautiful lesson for all of us.
And then the words that God speaks — beautiful words that he is not only saying to Jesus — he is speaking also to you and to me. He is speaking personally to us: “You are my beloved child. You are my son, my daughter. With you I am well pleased.”
So my dear brothers and sisters, this whole scene of the baptism of our Lord shows us who God is and who we are. God is not way “up there” — hiding in the clouds. God is alive, he is present!
To all of us — all the time! I hope that we all always remember this — God is with us! He’s looking out for you. You’re always in his loving presence, always.
The challenge for us is to try to always be in the presence of God and remember that no matter what’s happening in our lives, God is with us.
And today, especially, God is calling all of us to remember our baptism. He’s calling us to live by grace. to walk with Jesus in the Spirt, to live as children of the Father. He’s calling us to live as brothers and sisters in his great family, the Church.
God sends his only begotten Son among us and he calls every single one of us — there are no exceptions — to belong to him.
In the first reading of today’s Mass, the prophet Isaiah reveals the identity of Jesus. But he is also talking about those who follow Jesus.
God has put his spirit in us at baptism. He has made us to be his servants. He speaks to us today in the voice of the prophet Isaiah:
I, the Lord, have called you…
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you.
God gives us a mission. Because as we know, baptism is not the end. It is the beginning. Baptism is a consecration, a calling, a vocation!
Pope Emeritus Benedict said it in a beautiful way, he said: “The commitment that springs from Baptism is, therefore, ‘ to listen’ to Jesus: to believe in him and gently follow him, doing his will.”2 To listen, to believe, and to follow Jesus.
My dear brothers and sisters, God has a plan of love for us. He is calling us — each in our own way — to believe in Jesus and follow him.
Again, from Pope Benedict: “In this way everyone can strive for holiness, a goal that, as the Second Vatican Council recalled, is the vocation of all the baptized.”3 To listen, to believe and to follow Jesus.
Because Jesus shows us how to live as a child of God, how to be holy! We need to follow his teachings, live by his example, grow closer to him, especially, in the Eucharist.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, in this beautiful feast of the Baptism of the Lord, let us thank God our Father for the gift of our baptism. Let us try to live this week — and every day of our lives — with a new awareness that we are children of God, and loved by God.
To listen, to believe, to follow him.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to watch over us and to help us to follow Jesus and to become the people we are made to be.
1. Readings: Isa. 42: 1-4, 6-7; Ps. 29: 1-4, 9-10; Tit. 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22.