Last Sunday, we celebrated the Epiphany, the manifestation of the Lord to the Magi, and today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and the revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, calling us to heed the words of Jesus to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).
In the waters of baptism, sin – personal and original – is washed away so that we are reconciled to God and restored to grace. We are marked as belonging to the Lord and initiated into the life of the sacraments in His Holy Church.
Both personal experience and scripture show us that water is both destructive and life-giving. Water is a symbol of death in sin, calling to mind the devastation of the Flood and the closing of the Red Sea. But water is even more a source and symbol of freedom, cleanliness and life. The Israelites escaped bondage in Egypt by crossing through the Red Sea. The River Jordan is where the people of God had crossed into the Promised Land, led by Joshua, and it is where John baptized Jesus (whose name is Joshua in Hebrew). And when Jesus was pierced with a lance on the Cross, water and blood poured forth from His side.
Water is essential to life, most especially the water of eternal life that Jesus offers to us (Jn 4:14, Rev 21:6). The waters of baptism purify and free us from the bondage of sin, and thereby allow us to begin a new life in a new land. We are born again so that we can enter the kingdom of God, forever marked as belonging to the Lord who is life and makes all things new.
Jesus, being without sin, had no need of baptism. “Christ is baptized not that He may be sanctified in the waters, but that He Himself may sanctify the waters,” explains St. Maximus of Turin. He accepted John’s baptism of repentance as a sign of His own death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Upon the baptism of Jesus, heaven is opened. The Lamb of God allows Himself to be counted among sinners so that we sinners who are buried with Him might rise with Him as a new creation (CCC 1214; 2 Cor 5:17).
However, many people, after having been raised up to this new life, fall again into sin and death. When God saved the Israelites from bondage, many grumbled and wanted to return to Egypt. They wanted God to prove Himself and eventually made a golden calf to worship instead. Accordingly, rather than enter the Promised Land, the people wandered in the desert for 40 years.
Our present-day society, in its embrace of secularism, materialism, and individualism, has likewise chosen not to follow God. Even many Christians, after having been delivered from bondage in sin through baptism, prefer to return to lives focused on themselves and thus to wander in the dry and barren desert.
But God delights not in the death of sinners – He is a God of Life. He offers the mercy of His life-giving water to mankind while taking justice upon Himself on the Cross.
Baptism, the cleansing with water by the power of the living Word, makes us sharers in God’s own life and His adopted children. If we are truly children of God in a sacramental, spiritual and mystical sense, then we must in some way share in the life and mission of Jesus. And so the Lord sends us out to be like Joshua and help lead people out of the wilderness, across the river, to the promised land of new life in abundance. This is our mission in the New Evangelization.
The Baptism of the Lord invites us to consider how we can live out our faith with renewed energy and vigor, and to have a greater confidence and willingness to joyously share with others the Good News that we all can be made new again. Even if we have spurned Him, we can be forgiven by God, who is rich in mercy, and restored to new life.