The Christmas season officially ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It is fitting the remembrance of baptism is included in a time when the focus of God’s incarnation is dutifully celebrated in Christianity throughout the world. The majority of Catholics have been baptized since the fourth century as infants. The practice of infant baptism has deep theological reasoning behind it and is a bit more complicated than can be explained now. Suffice to say, the practice of infant baptism makes the inclusion of the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism as the end of Christmas time a much more logical progression.
Unlike all of humanity, Jesus did not need to be baptized. So why did he allow St. John to baptize him in the Jordan river? In order to come up with some kind of answer to the question, we must recall the state of affairs at the time St. John was baptizing his followers. The ravages of evil entering the world were so pervasive it tainted everything, even the waters of the river Jordan. St. John, a holy man was not immune from sin either, but was aware sin and evil are the conditions which separates humanity from God. In a hope to have humanity draw closer to God, St. John preached and practiced ways in which the gulf between the mortal and the immortal could be bridged by addressing directly sin and evil. One way of attempting to do that was symbolically washing his followers through a rudimentary form of baptism which acknowledged sinfulness, along with a conviction to amend their lives by becoming more aware sin distances them from God. Unfortunately, St. John’s baptism was only symbolic because he, nor anyone, has the power to forgive sin. Only God can remit sin.
The prophetic actions of St. John by baptizing his followers, became the means by which God, though Jesus, would use to forgive sin in the form of a baptismal rite. Jesus willingly being baptized by St. John turned a symbolic action into a sacred rite by sanctifying the waters of the Jordan and all water thereafter used in baptism. It also became the way in which the identity of Jesus was made known to a fallen world. Prior to Jesus’ baptism, not much is known about his life. At the baptism of the Lord, we are taught more about the person of Jesus and his identity. While in the water, St. Luke informs us, “...the skies opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in visible form like a dove. A voice from heaven was heard to say, ‘You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.’”
Notice, Jesus’ identity is not defined as the son of Mary, but as the beloved Son of God. Jesus’ physical body was born of Mary but what is more important than that fact alone is the spiritual reality of being God’s Son which mingles the physical and spiritual perfectly in the person of Jesus. Similarly, our baptism connects our physical mortal bodies with our spiritual immortal reality. Albeit, the connection is not perfect at the time of baptism, but it does become the precursor of what we will become at the resurrection of the dead.
Now that the full identity of Jesus is revealed, the public life of Jesus begins where he preaches about the kingdom of God and what it means to be a son or daughter of God. The Baptism of our Blessed Lord shows us a perfect example of what a Christian should understand about his/her own baptism. We have become beloved sons and daughters in whom God’s favor rests. Baptism has changed our identity. Our identity as persons is not limited to being a son of Carol or a daughter of Henry, but more, a son or daughter of God through Christ. The fullness of our identity is now rightfully called Christian.
Once we have become new creatures in Christ through baptism, we are called to live out the new identity. Just as Jesus began his public life after his baptism, in the same way our new identity calls us to begin our public life by witnessing our new lives to the world in the way we live and act.
Because we are baptized and adopted children of God, we possess the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to know the truth and to be an instrument in the world which yearns and needs such words.
Our baptism has given us the grace to console and help those in need.
Our baptism has given us the grace to bring love where there is hate and violence.
Our baptism gives us the grace to feed those who are hungry.
Our baptism has given us the power to forgive one another and be agents of healing.
Our baptism gives us the grace to follow in the footsteps of the Son of God who did all these things.
When we have done those things which we are empowered to do, our identity as sons and daughters of God became a reality instead of just a title. And the words, “You are my beloved sons and daughters, on you my favor rests” are not just words, not just a title, but the certainty of our identity.