The Christmas season concludes today with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. As narrated in today’s Gospel, God the Father himself attests that he whose birth we have been celebrating is in fact God the Son become man. We have heard this truth announced by angels to shepherds, signified to the Magi by a star and heralded by John the Baptist.
The incongruity of the sinless Son of God receiving a baptism of repentance was not lost on John the Baptist. When Jesus came to be baptized, John said: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14) Nevertheless Jesus insists upon it “to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) The preface of John the Baptist explains it this way: “And to make holy the flowing waters, he [John] baptized the very author of Baptism.”
St. Hippolytus, a third-century priest and martyr, reflects with amazement on the fact that Jesus should be baptized by John the Baptist. At the same time he does not want us to miss the significance of our baptism. Here are some excerpts of his sermon on the Epiphany.
The Father of immortality sent his immortal Son and Word into the world; he came to us men to cleanse us with water and the Spirit…Let peoples of every nation come and receive the immortality that flows from baptism. This is the water that is linked to the Spirit, the water that irrigates Paradise…this is the water by which a man receives new birth and life, the water in which even Christ was baptized, the water into which the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove…Whoever goes down into these waters of rebirth with faith renounces the devil and pledges himself to Christ. He repudiates the enemy and confesses that Christ is God, throws off his servitude, and is raised to filial status. He comes up from baptism resplendent as the sun, radiant in his purity, but above all, he comes as a son of God, and a coheir with Christ.
Jesus’ baptism was to mark the beginning of his public ministry. The baptism we received is the baptism with the Holy Spirit that John predicted would succeed his baptism of repentance. (Gospel) It is through this baptism that we became God’s children by adoption, “born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.” (John 1:13) From this flows our ministry as members of the Body of Christ: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
With the conclusion today of the liturgical season of Christmas, we begin tomorrow the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. This season does not celebrate any particular aspect of the Paschal Mystery as do all the other seasons of the liturgical year. Rather, Ordinary Time is characterized by an ordered reading of the gospels—the meaning behind the name. On weekdays we begin with the gospel of Mark, then Matthew in the summer and Luke in the fall. On Sundays this year we follow the gospel of Mark, after a transitionary passage from John’s gospel next Sunday. The first readings on weekdays are ordered readings from the other books of the bible, alternating between the books of the Old Testament and the epistles of the New Testament. On Sundays the first readings are from the Old Testament and correspond in some way to the gospel of the day, while the second readings are ordered readings from the epistles of the New Testament with no particular relationship to the first reading or the gospel.
Pray the rosary this week for the success of the covid vaccines and for the health and well-being of patients and caregivers. Pray for people lacking shelter from winter’s cold and, as always, pray for peace.
May God bless his people with peace.