The Baptism of the Lord

Cycle c

13th January 2019

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

We could ask ourselves on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord why it’s important or relevant or indeed whether it was even necessary for Jesus to be baptised.

Jesus didn’t need baptism as we need baptism but this marks the start of his public ministry rooted in his identity as the Son of God anointed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was baptised into our humanity, so that we can be baptised into his divinity.

All four Gospels relate the Baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist but Luke’s account is different from the others which imply that the Holy Spirit descended at the moment of Jesus’ baptism, while he was still in the water. That’s the way this scene is often depicted in religious art; Jesus and John standing waist deep in the water with a dove above Jesus’s head representing the Holy Spirit descending from heaven.

But Luke says, “Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon him.” From this we might assume that Christ was out of the water and alone when the Holy Spirit appeared and he heard the voice of the Father. Did anyone besides Jesus actually witness these events?

The Gospel of John answers that question. He tells us that John the Baptist gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One” (John 1:32-34).

Luke wrote his Gospel primarily for Gentile Christians; non-Jewish people who have been baptised. He is telling them that their baptism means the same as Jesus’ baptism; that they, through baptism, are God’s daughters and sons. The same is true for us over 2000 years later; through baptism we are children of God calling God, our Father.

Jesus preached that you and I can have the same personal, intimate relationship with God that he has.

At that time this was a most radical and outrageous idea; a blasphemous idea that would certainly have upset the Jewish authorities and contributed enormously in their decision to have him killed. They taught that our relationship with God is like the accused before a judge, and God, therefore, is distant, stern and righteous rather than a loving, caring, compassionate and forgiving Father. Even today, Muslims consider it blasphemy to attribute fatherhood to God.

Our relationship with God as our Father is central to our Christian faith.

Christianity is not about being a good person or doing the right think or having a heart of gold – as wonderful as these attributes are. Anyone can have those qualities irrespective of their religion.

To be a Christian is to be grafted onto Christ; to become a member of his mystical body – sharing in his own relationship to the Father. Jesus is the Son of God by nature; we become sons and daughters of God by Baptism. And hopefully the fruits of our baptism will see us living as good people, doing what is right with generous and loving hearts.

Just as we take on life through birth, so our supernatural life is born in baptism; we are born again into spiritual life with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God’s magnificent gift of grace revealed through Jesus.

Baptism is our most ecumenical sacrament uniting almost all the world’s Christians in Jesus Christ.

The sacrament of Baptism is the gateway to the other sacraments; it’s the power that makes the other sacraments effectual. As an analogy, imagine that the other sacraments are devices in the kitchen; toaster, microwave, kettle, stove, fridge, etc. Until they are plugged into a source of power, they are useless and ineffectual. Baptism is the source that powers all the other sacraments.

St Paul saw baptism as the fulfilment of the ancient Hebrews ‘practice of circumcision on the eighth day of life; in his words baptism was “a circumcision without hands”.

In the Jewish faith, through circumcision an infant boy enters into God’s covenant with the family of Abraham.

In the Christian faith, through baptism we enter the new covenant into the family of God as sons and daughters, calling God, our Father.

From the very beginning the Church has welcomed infants, children and adults, male and female, into a covenant relationship with Christ, through the sacrament of Baptism.

We are reminded of this covenant every time we enter a church and dip our hands into the water font and make the Sign of the Cross.

The sign of the cross is the most common prayer of Christians and has been since the founding of the Church.

Tertullian, the notable North African theologian writing in the second century (in modern day Tunisia), wrote: “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down and sitting down, whatever task occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.”

We make the sign of the cross as a public profession of our faith, a reminder of our baptismal promises and our resolve that evil will have no place in our lives.

It is a physical reminder of God’s love for us and the greatness of our human dignity that flows from this love.

Let us always be mindful of the powerful significance of this simple prayer and make the sign of the cross over our bodies purposefully and thoughtfully with care and sincerity.

And in our hearts let’s be conscious of the Father’s voice:

“You are my beloved one. In you I am well pleased.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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