The feast of the Baptism of the Lord flows naturally from our celebration at Christmas of the birth of Jesus, who is Christ the Lord, and from the Solemnity of the Epiphany last week, when we recalled with joy the public revelation of the world’s Savior to the Magi. Today, we remember how the adult Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan and received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
All three days – the Nativity, the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord – involve the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world. The reason for this sequence of celebrations is so that you and I will reflect on who Jesus is, and what that means for us in our daily lives today.
Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist marks the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry. Prior to this, John had paved the way for the coming of the Lord, and when Jesus appeared before him to be baptized, John recognized him as the Savior, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and suggesting that it should be Jesus baptizing John, not the other way around (Matthew 3:13-15; John 1:29). Jesus replied that it was fitting that he be submerged in the waters of baptism and when he was, the heavens opened and God confirmed John’s testimony in an extraordinary way, by a manifestation of the Blessed Trinity: the Father’s voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” and the Spirit descending as a dove and coming upon Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17).
This is the moment of Jesus’ anointing as priest, prophet and king. Thus it is the end of his “hidden life,” and on the liturgical calendar, this marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of a new phase of the Church’s year, Ordinary Time.
The early Church saw the day not only as a celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, but of every Christian’s baptism, and as a celebration of the new life in Christ that is shared through the sacrament. For those who see with the eyes of faith, every baptism is a dramatic and sudden manifestation of God’s power. It is a reason for celebration. In the sacramental waters, three things happen: Sin – original and personal – is washed away; we receive an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and we become a member of the body of Christ, his Church, and of God’s family, as his adopted sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to each other.
Pope Francis has said that when Jesus was baptized, heaven was opened to reunite people with God. The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, he explained, gave everyone “the possibility of encountering the Son of God and experiencing all his love and infinite mercy.”
This reflection on the importance of our own baptism thus presents the occasion to ask ourselves what we are doing to shine forth that light of faith and that new life in Christ that we received in the sacrament:
Do we manifest Jesus in our personal lives so that others in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our communities and our world might encounter the Lord’s love and mercy? Do we open our hearts to the Spirit that descended upon Jesus, and was sent by him to descend upon us at our own baptism and confirmation, so that his Spirit might flow through us as a living font of God’s tender affection and compassion? Do we welcome Jesus into the depths of our being, body and soul, by receiving him in the Eucharist and then go forth to build up his kingdom in the world?
“From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly,” affirms Pope Francis, adding, “It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends” (Misericordiae Vultus, 25). The waters of baptism are drawn from this river of mercy and redemption, the river of life-giving water that Jesus wants to give to all. Having received the mercy of God in baptism and in all the many blessings and graces that flow from it, let us share that living water with a thirsty world.