Baptism of the Lord
End of Christmas Season
In the liturgy of the Church, today’s feast is not an isolated celebration which stands apart from what went before and what will come after. The Baptism of the Lord is intimately connected both with the Christmas mystery and with the Paschal mystery. The Child who was born for us and the Son who was given to us is manifested before us as the Son of the Most High. Christ begins his public life with his baptism by John in the Jordan. The Father and the Holy Spirit are witnesses to Christ, for he is the beloved Son of the Father, and the Spirit of God rests upon him.
In The Message translation of this morning’s Gospel, St Luke tells us: After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life”.
This is the clearest text in the whole Bible in which God revealed himself as a Trinity of Persons. It is a theophany, or manifestation, of each of the three divine Persons. The Father remains hidden on high. He is the invisible origin and beginning. Only his Word can be heard. The Son, on the other hand, can be seen. He stands upon the earth in human form. In him God has stepped down from the heights of heaven and become visible. The Holy Spirit hovers between the Father and the Son looking like a dove, the Personal unity and communion of Father and Son.
Today’s feast is also a reminder of our own baptism in the name of this Holy Trinity. St Ephrem the Syrian writes that “Our blessed Lord came to be baptized with sinners and because of his glory the heavens were opened. The One who purifies all creatures, desiring to cleanse them, went into the waters and sanctified them for our baptism”.
Our own baptism is in the name of the Holy Trinity, and whenever we make the sign of the cross, we witness to our faith in this revelation of God. By raising our hand to our forehead we bear witness to the Father, the invisible origin of all things. By moving our hand to the center of our chest we confess the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. And when we move our hand from one shoulder to the other, that points to the Holy Spirit who is called the Bond between the Father and the Son. And so the sign of the cross is a reminder of the theophany made manifest at the baptism of Christ: the Father sends the Son in the Holy Spirit.
The fact that we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord on a Sunday points to its connection with the paschal mystery, which marks the end of Christ’s public ministry and the beginning of his eternal ministry to Christians of all times and places. Easter is the principal day for baptism, and during the Easter Vigil, the sign of the cross is made over the water to be used for baptism or for use as holy water. We bear witness to this paschal mystery every time we make the sign of the cross. On the cross God broke the power of the devil and brought about the redemption of the world, as the act which had its beginning and first manifestation on today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Let us, then, give thanks to God at this Eucharist for our own baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, and let us continually renew our consecration to him + In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.