My dear brothers and sisters,
Today the Church celebrates a rather unusual feast day…the Baptism of the Lord. The reason I say it’s unusual is because Jesus was without sin, and in the gospel we just heard we see that the sinless Son of God mingles with the huge crowds on the banks of the river Jordan and asks to be baptized. This feast is unusual because John’s baptism was not just some cheap ritual, but it was a powerful sign of a new way of life for each sinful man or woman who came to be baptized by John. John’s baptism included the confession of sins, and the goal of this baptism was for each person to leave behind the sinful life one had led until that moment and start out on the path to a new, changed life. So we have to ask ourselves: Is that something Jesus could do? How could He confess sins? How could He separate Himself from His previous sinful life in order to start a new one? These are questions that Christians of the early church were scandalized with. If He really is the Son of God, why did He need to go through with a ritual that implied one’s sinfulness?
The only way to understand this event is if we look at it in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Only through the cross and the rising of Christ from the dead do all things make sense, because Jesus’ whole life was directed to that moment. So what does Jesus’ Baptism mean in light of the cross? It means that already there in the Jordan River, in anticipation of the cross, Jesus accepted death for the sins of humanity. He wasn’t being baptized in order to repent of any kind of sin. He was perfect. But by accepting baptism, Jesus loaded the burden of mankind’s guilt upon His shoulder’s and drowned them in the depths of the Jordan river. That is why Jesus chose to be baptized. Jesus’ immersion into the water is a symbol of death, of descending into the dead, while emerging again symbolizes the resurrection, the new life that is given. And the new life that is given is expressed in the words from the Father in heaven: This is my beloved Son.
You might be thinking to yourself: What has this to do with me? How does this apply to my life? Well, on a day like this, when the Church celebrates the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are all encouraged to remind ourselves of our baptism, and to try and understand the deep reality of this great sacrament. The Church’s theology on Baptism is very rich, and it tells us that when we are baptized, we participate in a real and tangible way in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as immersion in the waters symbolizes the death of Christ, so when we are baptized we also die to sin and are stripped of our old sinful nature. And just as the emerging from the waters symbolizes the resurrection, so we also are given new life in Christ, and not only are we given new life, but we truly become children of God, when the Father looks down upon each of us at Baptism and says: “You are my beloved Son and Daughter”.
We live in a society that questions faith and religion, and sees it as something archaic with its outdated practices and beliefs. So many people today ask: Is Baptism even relevant anymore? Isn’t it just some silly tradition that is an excuse to bring family and friends together? We hear people saying this because we live in a society that has rejected the truth of Original Sin in our world. It is a popular claim today that if God exists, then I can reach Him on my own…I can take possession of God for myself. But this is a false understanding of the reality of the human person, a person who is born with what we call Original Sin. And what exactly is this original sin that has been passed down to each human being since the fall of our first parents at the dawn of human history? Well, in a nut shell, it’s the fact that we are born into this world with a ruptured relationship with God. This is what the doctrine of Original Sin basically means, that the very life of God, a God who desires to be in relationship with each of us, is absent from our souls, and therefore we cannot reach God on our own. This was the great tragedy of the fall. This is what our first parents lost for us, and this is what God has desired to restore through the death and resurrection of His Son. And by giving us the Sacrament of Baptism, Christ has allowed us to share in His redeeming death, whereby we die to the old man, and where we also rise to life by hearing the words of the Father: You are my beloved son and daughter…you are my child…you are a new creation. This is what truly happens when we are baptized…God, the all powerful, the almighty, whom the universe cannot contain, comes to dwell within our hearts and souls and makes His home within us, and that ruptured relationship is once again restored.
Our world today is trying to convince itself that it doesn’t need God; it doesn’t need to resort to some silly practice such as Baptism. And yet, how many people today are craving for meaning in life, for loving and meaningful relationships? Ultimately, everyone craves one thing…to be loved, and ultimately to be loved by love itself, who is God. Deep down inside, all of us long to hear those words: You are my beloved son…you are my beloved daughter. We are made for God, to be in relationship with Him, and there is no other way to be more intimate with God than through the Sacrament of Baptism.
Lastly, I want to say a few words about the Sacrament of Confession. You might ask: What does Confession have to do with Baptism? Well, it has everything to do with it, because Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Confession as an extension of the Sacrament of Baptism. They are intimately connected, and the reason why they are connected is because after our baptism (which cannot be repeated), we can still fall short of giving ourselves fully to that relationship with God. In short, we all still fall into sin, and can even rupture that covenant which God made with us by rejecting His love. We are sons and daughters of God, but just as children can reject the love of their parents, so we also as children of God can turn our back on the Father. Confession is a place where God keeps offering Himself to us and enables us to heal our relationship with Him. Our baptismal garment can still be stained, but God gives us constant assistance through the sacrament of confession by helping us keep that garment pure and undefiled.
On this day of the Baptism of the Lord, let us give thanks to God for calling us to be His children, for allowing us to share in His life and love. Let us always remember that in Baptism, we have died with Christ, and if we have died with Him, we have also risen to new life with Him, and this should make our hearts rejoice at the great dignity which God has bestowed upon us.