The Baptism Of The Lord
Isaiah 42: 1 – 4, 6 – 7; Ps 29; Acts 10: 34 – 38: Matthew 3: 13 – 17
You might be amazed at this: in my youth I went swimming many, many times in the Jordan River and lest you become weary with too much amazement I’ll clarify that. The Jordan River I am referring to is in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. It flows into the Lehigh River then into the Delaware and into the Ocean; I recall it was usually muddy and probably polluted not unlike our Genesee River; in those days of yore we did not seem to worry about pollution and obviously I survived as did many others.
In preparing this homily I recalled an event I witnessed along with my friends. A Christian group was holding a baptism ceremony in the Jordan River. Never having seen anything like this we were fascinated to say the least. The minister and an assistant were standing in the river waste high and those to be baptized were waiting their turn on the bank. As each one entered the river the minister and assistant stood on either side of the person and held the person who, if I remember, was told to hold his/her nose closed. Each one was totally immersed for the length of the words of Baptism – which was only a few seconds – I remember they seemed a bit shocked when raised up – shocked by the Holy Spirit – and I guess kind of unnerved by being “dunked.”
This leads me to the Gospel; I see a connection between what I witnessed and a sentence in the Gospel; “After Jesus was baptized, He came up from the water…” Often in representations of the baptism, John the Baptist is portrayed as pouring water on the Lord’s head – perhaps this is the way it happened, but perhaps the line about Jesus coming up from the water indicates that John immersed Him totally.
If Jesus was immersed totally then it would be very fitting to the whole mystery of the Incarnation which we have been celebrating these past weeks. In becoming man Jesus entered totally, completely, fully into human life, into our life. He did not seem to put on our human nature; this becoming one of us was not some kind of play, in which He played a part like an actor. He immersed Himself totally, willingly in our imperfect humanity. As Scripture says: “He became like us in all things but sin.” We acknowledge this sacred mystery in the Creed: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” We can never reflect enough upon this mystery, we can never come to the end of it, we can never comprehend its depths yet we are baptized into it.
At that moment when the waters of Baptism were poured on us, we are incorporated into Christ. By God’s love we are fully adopted into His life so that we can honestly say, “I belong to Christ, my life is caught up into His, I am His and He is mine.” This is not pious fantasy; it is the truth, the reality of our lives – a truth we are celebrating here and now in this Holy Eucharist – together as the Body of Christ we acknowledge this with gratitude.
The ceremony is once and done but Baptism is a journey of grace, of deepening the most sacred relationship in this life – yes, we are of Christ yet hopefully and by God’s grace growing more into this reality. This growth is not automatic; it is a daily, perhaps hourly decision to live in Christ. Just as Jesus was tempted, just as the evil one tried to deceive Him so we too face temptations and deceptions. No one is immune, no one!
A book, “People of the Lie” by Scott Peck is an excellent exposition on this very thing. In our humanity tainted by original sin we can fall victim to lies, to deceptions. Simply put, we can buy a lie, or two or many and then live this evil, even shamelessly. What do these lies sound like: it’s OK to be unfaithful in my vocation; it’s OK to end a fetus’ life; it’s OK to be unforgiving, to promote resentment, to treat another poorly; it’s OK to do drugs, to decide on my own what is right and wrong. The list is long and deadly. Adam and Eve were the first to buy the lie and not the last, by any means.
If we truly value, esteem, reverence our Baptism into Christ, then we need to flee the lie, to recognize it for what it is – choosing darkness over light, deciding for evil rather than the truth that is Jesus Christ. When we recognize the lie, any lie, let our prayer be “Come, no farther!” In other words “Get lost!” Surely, we pray to treasure our life in Christ, to see immediately what threatens it, and for the grace of courage to choose for Christ.