REMINDER - Today is the first Mass on campus of the new semester. Tonight at 7:30pm at the Catholic Student Center.
SOLEMNITY OF THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD (A)
Today we conclude the Christmas season with the celebration of the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. A common question that arises at this time each year is, "Why was Jesus Baptized at all?" It's a fair question, especially when you consider the reason and the effects of our own baptism.
Why are we baptized? The short answer is, "for the forgiveness of sins." We are sinners, plain and simple. We are conceived in the state of original sin, which is the general state of all mankind since the Fall of our first parents, the effects of which are many but include the loss of the grace of original holiness. We also, if we are baptized as adults, will have committed many personal sins in our life. These sins are called "actual" sins, not because original sin is not "actually" a sin, in the way we use the word today; rather because these are sins we commit in act, or by our actions. In either case, original sin or actual sin, baptism cleanses us of that sin. It transmits God's forgiveness. "By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin" (CCC 1263).
But Jesus Christ is the sinless One. He is God Incarnate. In His human nature He is like us in all things except sin. So if Christ was conceived without original sin, and if He committed no personal sin, then why was Jesus baptized by John?
We are not alone in asking this question. In today's gospel reading from Matthew John himself tries to stop Jesus from being baptized. "I need to be baptized by you," he says, "and yet you are coming to me?" Yet Jesus said His baptism was fitting, "to fulfill all righteousness."
There is more here than meets the eye, and there is more to baptism than meets the eye. Baptism does more for us than simply wipe away all sins. Not that the forgiveness of all sins and remission of all punishment due to sins is not enough, mind you! That alone is a miraculous, generous, and merciful action of our God. It already is more than any of us deserve, but God does not stop there.
According to St. Paul, the one who is baptized unites himself or herself with Christ's death. That sounds kind of bad, until you realize that it is only by being united to His death that we can be united to His Resurrection.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:3-4).
This "newness of life" begins with Christ's baptism. When Jesus arose from the waters, our gospel today tells us that "the heavens were opened." These same heavens were closed to us after Adam's sin; they are opened now with Christ. The gospel also speaks of the Spirit coming down and resting over Jesus in the water. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of creation in Genesis 1:2, now the Spirit descends over the waters of the new creation which is being wrought in Christ.
So why was Jesus baptized? The answer is not for the forgiveness of His sins, but for ours. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. By subjecting Himself to baptism, He is emptying Himself. The Catechism calls His baptism the "first manifestation" of His self-emptying (CCC 1224), a self-emptying that would end with His suffering and death on a cross. Likewise the descent of the Holy Spirit over the waters is a manifestation of the new creation to be worked in Christ through His death and Resurrection. The appearance of the Holy Trinity (the Son, being baptized, the Spirit descending over the waters of baptism, and the Father saying He is well pleased) is a manifestation of the Trinity coming to rest in our own hearts upon our baptism.
If you recall from last week, we spoke of the word epiphany meaning "manifestation," or making known. Thus the Baptism of the Lord is a sort of epiphany, an extension of the epiphany we celebrate when the wise men, three Gentile sages from the east, came to worship Christ the Lord. And as a symbol of dying and rising, Christ's baptism foreshadows the passion, death and resurrection to come. Thus it is fitting that we celebrate His baptism today, to end the Christmas season and prepare us for the great Lent and Easter celebrations to follow.
Why was Jesus baptized? He was baptized for us, to give our own baptisms meaning; so that the waters of this earth would be made holy, conduits of His grace, in order that we might be united with Him in death, united with Him in eternal life, reborn as children of God, creatures in the new creation.