FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, January 9, 2022:
A quiz show contestant was asked to name two of Santa's reindeer. The contestant smiled thinking he knew the answer to the question. “That’s easy,” he said, "Rudolph and Olive!" The host asked the contestant, "We'll accept Rudolph but can you explain Olive?" The man looked at the host and said, "You know, 'Olive', the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names."
A little bit of Christmas humor as we conclude our Christmas Season today with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. We have taken these weeks since Christmas Day to reflect on Jesus’ private life – from His birth through the finding in the Temple and last week’s visit of the Magi. Today’s celebration marks the beginning of His public ministry, a sort of passing of the torch to Jesus from John the Baptist as He seeks out baptism in the Jordan.
Even though we hear such beautiful words in today’s Gospel, the voice of God Himself from Heaven proclaiming, “You are my beloved Son,” it begs a very curious question – why is Jesus being baptized? Have you ever stopped to think about this? Baptism, as we know, is for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism places us in relationship with God. Jesus – of all people to ever exist – doesn’t need baptism. We know this. He was untouched by sin – “like us in all things, but sin.” You and I, born in a state of Original Sin, are born in desperate need of this sacrament of grace. We need these saving waters to wash over us and restore in us what was taken away by Adam and Eve. But, Jesus? Why would He need baptism?
I came across the best response to this question a few years ago when Pope Benedict, released his book, Jesus of Nazareth . Let me share a bit of what the Pope says about the question of Jesus baptism in this wonderfully spiritual book. First, the problem. He writes, “The real novelty is the fact that Jesus wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. We have just heard that the confession of sins is a component of Baptism. Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do? How could he confess sins?”
The Pope notes that Jesus doesn’t require the newness of life that we all need because of our sin. So, if the baptism of Jesus isn’t about His own sin, since He has none, who’s sin is it about? Of course, it is about our sin. Again, the Pope writes, “The act of descending into the waters of this Baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. This Yes to the will of God also expresses solidarity with men [and women], who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness…Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all [humanity’s] guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners.”
So, as Jesus begins His public ministry – a ministry that will take Him to the Cross, the grave and to resurrection all for us – He does so by taking on our sins. It is not on the Cross that Jesus takes on the sins of humanity – on the Cross, He frees us from them. It is in the waters of the Jordan that Jesus steps into the place of sinners, into our place. In the Jordan, Jesus united Himself with us; so that in our own baptism, we can be united with Him – so that we can be forgiven, we can be healed, we can be saved. Again, the Pope writes, “To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus' Baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him. The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him.”
And so baptism is a branding of sort; it is an identification, an initiation, a welcoming. In Jesus’ baptism and in our own, we have been united, one with the other; welcomed into the Family of God as a brother or sister of Christ. When we are baptized, the priest or deacon says these words, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.” In the Jordan, Jesus was clothed in us, taking our sins onto Himself so that He could redeem us on the Cross. In the baptismal fonts of our Churches, we are clothed in Him – in the hopes that we will live lives worthy of the call; worthy of the name we bear – sons and daughters of God.
In the Jordan, Jesus stepped into our place. Today, through the grace of our own baptism, He asks us to do the same. We must now be the ones to step into the place of Christ and be His presence in our world, so that the Father may say of us as He said of Him, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.