Gospel of Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
My brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the day that I must address one of the more pressing controversies of this present day. I recognize that what I am about to say is divisive and may cause hurt feelings and strain relationships… but it needs to be said. So, I have decided, to summon the courage, and prepare for the chastisement and rebuke, which will undoubtedly follow, and announce: Today, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, is the official end of the Christmas Season… not the Epiphany!
There! I said it. If there was any doubt as to when one can officially remove the tree, take down the decorations, stow away the lights and extension cords, and box up the creche I have now officially removed it. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the official end of the Christmas season. Feel free to confidently and in accordance with the tradition of the Church, remove the Christmas décor from you homes.
On the Nativity, December 25th, we celebrate the coming of God into this world. With the birth of Jesus, God came to humankind. On January 6th, the Epiphany, we reflect upon the visit of the Magi and celebrate God’s revelation to both Jew and Gentile. Today, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we celebrate and acknowledge God’s free and complete gift to humankind, his salvation through the forgiveness of our sins.
In the spirit of total disclosure, all three of these events, the Nativity, the Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord, constitute an epiphany, which comes from the Greek word epiphanein, meaning a “showing, appearance, or revelation”. All three of these events in the life of Jesus, as they are celebrated in the liturgy of the Church, constitute an epiphany, and today the Church is asking us to reflect on Jesus’s baptism.
Though today’s Gospel reading is from Luke, the account of the Baptism of our Lord is present in all four Gospels. Therefore, we can assume that this specific event in the life of Jesus is especially significant in the life of the Church.
One of the unique aspects of today’s Gospel account is that the Baptism of the Lord provides and answer to the question, “why”.
Why did God enter humanity? Why did Jesus, being both fully man and fully God, come into this world? Why did God reveal himself to both Jew and Gentile alike? Why did these events, which occurred in a seemingly insignificant place and time, impact all human history?
The answer is revealed in the words of the prophet John, when he states, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”, and in Jesus’s example, who was without sin, as he modeled for us the necessity of receiving the gift of Baptism for salvation. Why did God come to earth? The answer, that we all might be saved.
In response to this Truth let us all reflect upon our own baptism and what it means for us.
Most importantly, through baptism, God has given us new life by the forgiveness of our sins. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are born again. (Evangelicals don’t have sole proprietorship of that phrase.) So, I will say it again, when we receive the gift of baptism, we are born again.
In addition to the cleansing of sin, the gift of baptism allows us to share God’s divine nature. Through this we become his adopted children and, therefore, we are members of the Body of Christ. We are brothers and sisters as we all have the same Father.
Finally, the gift of baptism enlists us into the mission of Christ. We are to transform the world with the light and power of the Gospel. In today’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah clearly communicates this reality.
“I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
Now, before moving on, I would like to about gifts. I have been describing baptism as a gift, so maybe it would be helpful to reflect on what that means.
What is a gift? A gift is something given without and expectation of repayment. It is freely given, otherwise it would no longer be a gift, but a bribe, or a repayment. A gift has meaning and purpose. A gift is intentional.
For example, this year I received the gift of a hat. It is a warm hat, which is quite appropriate and necessary considering I am a bald man who lives in a cold climate. To say that I very much appreciate my gift would be an understatement. I have worn it many times and it has proven to be very effective in achieving its intended purpose… which is keeping my head warm.
To understand the importance and significance of our baptism we must first recognize that the Sacrament of Baptism is a gift from God. We cannot earn our baptism. We cannot live our lives in such a way as to merit baptism. We are not children of God because of our ancestry. We are not members of the Body of Christ because we go to church or recite prayers and creeds. Our salvation is dependent upon the gift of God, given to us through the Sacrament of Baptism.
However, let me be clear, baptism is not a free ticket to heaven. Yes, it is a gift of God, but it is a gift that must be received. Baptism is an indelible mark upon our soul, which cannot be erased, but, unfortunately, it can be denied. Plainly speaking a gift is only a gift once it has been received.
We deny the gift of our salvation when we fail, whether by our human weakness or by our willful disobedience, to love God or our neighbor. We deny the gift of our salvation when we refuse to be reconciled to God and to those whom we offend. We deny the gift of our salvation when we turn a blind eye or a deaf hear to the plight of the poor, the suffering, and the marginalized. We deny the gift of our salvation when reject God’s love and seek salvation in creation rather than the Creator.
In fact, I would propose, that throughout our respective lives we have on many occasions denied the gift of our salvation through our thoughts, words, and the things we have done and the things we have failed to do. Yet, that doesn’t mean God has “taken back” our gift. Once we receive God’s gift, he does not ask for it back.
Instead, God has provided us with abundant Grace, assistance if you will, so that we may continue to live out our baptism. Primarily, he has given us the source and summit of our faith, the Eucharist. He has given us the Sacraments of Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, and the Sacrament of our Vocation in order to manifest our salvation in the world in which we live.
Today, let us commit together, as children of God and as members of the Body of Christ to endeavor to live out our baptism… to live out our faith in the promise of our salvation… to live out the mission of Christ and transform the world with the light and power of the Gospel.