Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
“Today the heavens opened and the waters of the sea became sweet and fragrant;
the earth rejoiced, the mountains and hills exulted
–because Christ was baptized by John in the Jordan.
What has happened that the sea has been put to flight, and the Jordan has turned back upon itself?
–Because Christ was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Responsory for the Second Reading, Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours based on Psalm 114:5
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is a milestone event in the life of Jesus, in the Christmas story and in our Christian life. Christ did not go to John to confess His sins, as others had done. Rather, He who was like us in all things but sin, having taken on himself the weight of human sin, humbled Himself to be baptized. Thus, He sanctified the waters and, in so doing, as the Fathers of the Church teach, He instituted the Sacrament of Baptism by His actions. He did not need to do this, but, like everything else He did, it was done out of love for us and for the Father.
Already, we can see Jesus’ humility and His obedience to the Father when He tells John to allow the Baptism in order “to fulfill all righteousness” (cf Matthew 3:13-17). What, then, is this fulfillment of all righteousness, which Christ speaks of? It is, as the prophet says, “the victory of justice” to be “a covenant of the people, a light for the nations” (cf Isaiah 42:6). It is not a vengeful justice but it is a merciful justice that makes us just, after the example which the Lord set for us.
In this reading from Isaiah, we also hear the echoes of Christ’s presentation in the temple (which feast the Church celebrates on February 2nd), where Simeon praised God for this Light to the nations and prophesied that the sword would pierce Our Blessed Mother’s heart, a piercing that would take place, in particular, when the new covenant would be established by Christ’s blood (cf 1 Corinthians 11:25).
This humility and obedience, which were part and parcel of Jesus’ hidden life with Mary and Joseph, will also characterize His public life and will open the doors of heaven to us. Humility and obedience draw God: As Christ rises from the waters, the Holy Spirit descends on Him in the form of a dove and the Father is well pleased. The Trinity manifests itself. And, Jesus is anointed from on high with power and the Holy Spirit (cf Acts 10:38) “to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” (Isaiah 42:7).
“Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist.”*
Let us “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14) not just today, but every day. Let us go and do as He did (cf Luke 10:37).
* From a Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop; Second Reading, Office of Readings for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Liturgy of the Hours.
Art for this post on The Baptism of the Lord: Detail of