Reflection for January 11, 2009
Feast of the Baptism of Jesus
Today we come to the end of the Christmas season and tomorrow we return to Ordinary Time. We are probably experiencing a letdown after the experience of Christmas — a short season filled with feasts that capture our imaginations and lift our spirits. The feasts that occur during the Christmas season — the feast of the Holy Family, the feast of Mary, Epiphany, and now the Baptism — help us to continue the celebration of Christmas by focusing our attention on the different meanings of Emmanuel —
God with us.
- The feast of the Holy Family reminds us that Jesus came into this world as a child and member of a family that he might grow among us in wisdom and grace surrounded by those who loved him.
- The feast of Mary reminds us of Mary’s special place in the life of Jesus and her willingness to be the bearer of Emmanuel. God is with us through the instrumentality of others.
- The feast of the Epiphany, so rich with symbols, places before us our life-long search for Emmanuel and our need to “read” the signs God puts before us which bring us to discovery and wonder.
Our search for Emmanuel takes us down many roads, and at times the discovery of God’ s presence helps us to change routes, life-styles and ways of relating – we discover another road to travel and we are never the same again. Today’s feast of the Baptism celebrates another facet of the Christmas mystery. Jesus, who grew in wisdom and grace, is confirmed in being Emmanuel – God within the human community – a role that will lead to acceptance and rejection, suffering and glory.
The feast of the Baptism is the second most ancient liturgical celebration. The synoptics mention Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and John’s gospel gives a report of it indicating the importance of the event in the life of Jesus and in the life of the Church. The scene brings us face to face with John the Baptist who heralded the Christ during Advent, and now at the end of the Christmas season we meet him again – this time face to face with Jesus who is preparing to embark on his public ministry. Jesus, sinless and not needing a baptism of repentance, steps into the Jordan with his Judean brothers and sisters and becomes part of a specific community – a group of Jews in Judea who wanted to renew their relationship with God by repentance. By accepting baptism from John the Baptist, Jesus accepts solidarity with sinners. I would like to believe that those at the Jordan that day may well have been among the first followers of Jesus when he began to preach his good news. They can recognize Jesus as an “insider” God who knows the feeling of water being poured. His presence in the waters of Jordan baptizes him into their human joy and weariness.
The feast of the Baptism, coming at the end of the Christmas season, builds on the other feasts of the season. Jesus who is brought into the world through the generosity of a young Jewish maiden and raised in a loving family, is worshipped and sought after by rich and poor who are willing to listen, explore and travel out of their comfort zones.
Jesus steps into the Jordan and, by his baptism, says to us: “I am one of you…I will share your lives and experiences.” Being this Emmanuel is not a solo effort – it is the mission of the Triune God. The baptism is another epiphany feast – this time a manifestation of God in the person of Jesus. On this last day of the Christmas season, the gospel is not a story from Jesus’ childhood. Instead we have a revelation of the relationship of Jesus to God. The son of Mary and Joseph is also God’s own son – the chosen, the beloved. The manger has been a beautiful scene to contemplate. Today’s scene is just as beautiful, just as poignant. The baptism is a critical experience in the life of Jesus. When he steps into the waters of the Jordan, he experiences a “new birth” – a break with what has gone before and a leap into the new – this time the beginning of his public ministry.
In October 2006, I had the opportunity to visit and tour the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California. One of the features of the tour was to walk down the middle aisle into the sanctuary and stand behind the altar facing the congregation to get a total view of the cathedral. From the altar one looks to the back of the cathedral at the center panel of the baptistery tapestries. The center panel depicts Jesus kneeling in front of John the Baptist being baptized. The tapestry is pretty awesome at the very large baptistery in the back of the cathedral, but to focus on it from the altar is an even more powerful experience. I was so struck by the beauty of it – by the humility of John and Jesus – that I bought a small picture of the tapestry and it now hangs in my office where I can look at it many times a day. I am constantly reminded that I too am the beloved.
In this coming week, as we go about doing good and being God’s presence and light, let us recall our own baptism, our vocation, and the fact that the Spirit of the God rests on us today and everyday as we are told: “You are my beloved…with you I am well pleased.”(Mk. 1:11).
Reflection by Sr. Dominica Rocchio, SC