Today, the Church throughout the world concludes the formal Christmas season by celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. The feast day solemnly observes the baptism of the Lord Jesus by Saint John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
The baptism – marked by the thundering voice of God the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” – was the inauguration of the Lord’s public ministry. After thirty years of a predominantly hidden life, the Lord enters the public forum and begins to proclaim the kingdom of God. Three years later, he will die for this kingdom and the salvation it offers to humanity.
Every year, the Church liturgically remembers the Lord’s Baptism. The event at the Jordan is brought to the forefront of our minds and hearts.
But why? What is the importance of this feast day for believers in the twenty-first century?
After all the popular Christmas festivities have passed, and our lives have picked up their usual pace, the Church gives us this feast day as a reminder to us of what it means to be a Christian. Our lives cannot return to normal complacency. Our faith cannot disappear with the Christmas ornaments and decorations.
By giving us today’s feast day, the Church announces: the Baptism of the Lord is also the celebration of our own baptism. It is an invitation for deeper reform and renewal in our discipleship. It’s a call to acknowledge once again our place in God’s family, and to recommit ourselves to the Lord and his saving work within us (and through us).
Today’s feast is a help to us in applying the truths of faith in our own lives. The liturgical observance is not only a commemoration of a past event, but a true and pressing summons for us to live out the graces of own baptism. It reminds us of the way of life to which we are called as members of God’s family and as disciples of the Lord Jesus.
What are we doing with our baptism? Do we understand its call to follow the Lord Jesus and his more excellent way of love?
Today, God the Father says to each of us, what he said to the Lord Jesus: You are my beloved and I am well pleased. As parents love their children, even when they are wayward or have done sinful things, so God the Father loves each of us. He beckons us to himself. He desires to love and to strengthen us with his power.
Mother Teresa summarized this truth well, when she said: “Every human being has a longing for God. Christians go one step further—not only do we long for God but we have the treasure of his presence always with us.”
It is precisely God’s presence and love within us that emboldens us to repent of our sins and strive for greater virtue and holiness in our lives. As Saint Paul teaches us, we have to “fan into flame” the graces we have received, and seek to imitate the Lord in his mercy, compassion, and gentleness. Baptism is the beginning and the first means of this grace.
In our baptism, God the Father adopts us into his own family. We begin to receive and experience his grace in our lives. We come to know and feel the workings of his grace as we shed old vices, nurture new virtues, and see a new creativity emerge from our souls that we never expected or could have anticipated.
This saving action is not done alone. As baptized Christians, we are members of the Body of Christ. We breath with the Lord Jesus and with every other baptized person. In baptism, we are made one.
Mother Teresa again reflected this truth, when she said: “Our first great responsibility is to be a family. We are to reveal first, to one another, something of God’s own love and concern and tenderness. When others see us, they should say, ‘See how they love one another.'”
As we live our daily lives, we are graced to reflect in a thousand different ways, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This sacred, paschal mystery is re-presented in the lives of the baptized every day. We can witness it in ourselves, in our fellow believers, and even within the overall life of the universal Church.
On this feast day of the Baptism of the Lord, we are reminded of our baptism and its high calling in Jesus Christ. We are reminded of what we can be, and what we can accomplish, if we accept and live out the graces of our own baptism.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby