The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a Celebration of Every Christian’s Baptism
In a deeply Trinitarian vision recorded in the Book of Revelation, Saint John sees the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 22:1). John then hears an invitation to come share the life of the Trinity, “Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water” (Revelation 22:17, see also Revelation 7:17).
Jesus had spoken often of the water of life. He said to the Samaritan woman at the well that he gives “living water,” which becomes in the person a spring welling up to eternal life (John 4:10-14). Later, during Sukkot, the Jewish feast of booths, when the people remembered how God provided for them in the desert, Jesus invited those who were thirsty to come to him, saying that “rivers of living water” will flow from within whoever believes in him (John 7:37-38). Also, on the Cross, water would pour from Christ’s heart when his side was pierced with a lance (John 19:34).
This “living water” is an image for the life of the Holy Spirit. In the vision of Revelation, the Spirit is a “river” of love that flows in heaven, proceeding from the Father and from the Son. Moreover, this love of the Trinity, this river of love, overflows to earth in the waters of baptism.
John the Baptist is witness to this as he saw a manifestation, an epiphany, of the Blessed Trinity at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, which we celebrate today. When Jesus came up out of the water after submitting himself to baptism, John saw the Holy Spirit descend visibly in the form of a dove and hover over Jesus as the voice of the Father proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
The Spirit had moved over the waters at the dawn of creation as well (Genesis 1:2) and after the great flood, Noah had released a dove to find evidence that God had renewed creation and given the world another chance (Genesis 8:8-12). The Holy Spirit’s descent at the Jordan also signified a new creation (CCC 1224).
By his immersion in the water leading to the Promised Land, Jesus led the way for our own baptism, whereby every Christian is newborn into divine life in the Spirit, cleansing us of sin and giving us the grace to lead a holy life (CCC 1213). This sacrament of baptism not only creates new life in communion with the Trinity, but communion with our sisters and brothers in the Church. Baptism then is necessarily relationship.
We belong to our own natural family and then because of baptism we also belong to God’s family, with the mission of adding to this family. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Jesus tells us (Matthew 28:19).
One of the great joys of any priest is to confer the Sacrament of Baptism. Whether it is an infant in the arms of young parents who comes to the baptismal font, or a person advanced in years, it is sure to also warm the hearts and bring smiles to the faces of the people throughout the church.
For those who see with the eyes of faith, every baptism is a dramatic and sudden manifestation of God’s power. In the fruitfulness of the love of the Spirit, the Church like a mother has given birth to new children in Christ. As when any new birth is announced, baptism is a reason for celebration. It is reason for a feast.
This blog post is adapted from my book “Open to the Holy Spirit: Living the Gospel with Wisdom and Power” (2014).