Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus 2013
Year C (13 January 2013)
Today we celebrate the feast the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist at the river Jordan. In our liturgical calendar, this feast marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the ordinary time. Some homilists would even consider this day as the third epiphany, with Christmas as the first one through the visit of the shepherds to the manger when they heard from the angel the news of the birth of Jesus. The second epiphany is the solemnity of the Epiphany itself which we celebrated last Sunday, i.e. when God reveals himself to the nations through the visit of some wise men from the East. And today’s feast marks the third one when God, as the Holy Trinity reveals the true identity of Jesus.
It is interesting to note that in the first manifestation of God, the Shepherds were led by the Angels. In the second, the wise men were led by a star. And the third manifestation, it’s the Holy Trinity (the first time to be noted in the gospels) that reveals the true identity of Jesus himself.
To celebrate this day and to understand what really does the baptism of Jesus mean for us, we need to reflect on three events occurring at his baptism.
First, is that heaven was opened above the place in the water where Jesus was standing. According to Mark Link, S.J., in his commentary on this text, this opening of the heaven scene “recalls the prayer of Isaiah [Is 64:1), where the prophet pleads with God to ‘tear open the sky’ and come down and set things right on earth.”
Second is the descending of the Holy Spirit (like a dove) upon Jesus. Again, Link would say that this event points back to the Genesis story [Gen 1]of the Spirit of God hovering the waters and which put order out of chaos. So this signals a new moment of creation.
Third is the voice of the Father ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.” This confirmation of the Father points out to us that Jesus is the new Adam, God’s firstborn son of the new creation.
So Jesus’ baptism then marks the beginning of a new creation story for us, a new moment of putting order out of chaos, a remarkable moment of salvation. His baptism is not only a decisive moment of a confirmation of his identity as Son of God, but it is also an important and indispensable moment for our salvation history. His baptism reminds us that he has not come only to identify with our humanity but also to identify with our fallen nature by going the through the ‘remedy’ of our sinfulness though he has not sinned himself. We see this in his gesture to come to John the Baptist to be baptized. John’s baptism is for repentance, that is, for the forgiveness of sins. Yet Jesus has no sin, so why did he choose to be baptized? It is so because he wants to save us from where we are at. We are sinners. He wants to save us from sins. He couldn’t wait for us to come back to him. He searches us out by identifying with us in our human need of forgiveness and renewal. He has expressed this in his baptism.
The baptism of Jesus is also a moment of grace for us. One of the Early Church Fathers, Hippolytus of Rome has spoken of this great grace of Jesus’ baptism for us. He wrote: ‘If the Lord had yielded to John’s persuasion and had not been baptized, do you realize what great blessings and how many we should have been deprived of? Heaven was closed after then; our homeland on high was inaccessible. Once we had descended into the depths we were incapable of rising again to such lofty heights. The Lord was not only baptized himself; he also renewed our fallen nature and restored to us our status as God’s children. At once the heavens were opened to him. The world we see was reconciled with the world that lies beyond our vision; the angels were filled with joy; earthly disorders were remedied; mysteries were revealed; enemies were made friends.”
So if the baptism of Jesus signals a new moment of creation, then we who are baptized with him and in the name of Christ must also be renewed. This renewal must be part of our New Year’s resolution. And we must try our best to keep it up. Renewal here can also be understood as conversion- which means not only repenting the sins and the wrongs we have done in the past but also going forward and striving to live a good and godly life day by day. Conversion is a daily tasks and responsibility. It is important to note too that we can’t do it on our own. We are not alone in this journey. We need one another. More importantly, we need God. When we are baptized God has called us his children. His Spirit resides in us. This Spirit is our power to go on with our resolution to renewal, to ‘give up everything that does not lead us to God’ as St Paul tells us in our Second Reading today.
So as we continue celebrating the feast of baptism of Jesus, let us thank God for this grace because through baptism we are assured of eternal life. We might falter at times as human as we are we usually say, but we are still God’s children, and this is where our dignity lies. To borrow a line from the song of the late Whitney Houston ‘Greatest Love of All‘ “No matter what they take of [us] they can’t take [our] dignity” as children of God. We have become children of God by virtue of the baptism of Christ and by virtue of our sharing in his baptism. So it is worth rejoicing and worth celebrating.
 Mark Link, S.J. Experiencing Jesus: His Story, 96.
 Link, 97.
 Sermon on the Holy Manifestation 6-9 by St Hippolytus of Rome (Source: Journey with the Fathers: Commentaries on the Sunday Gospels)