Sunday, January 13, 2019

BE IMMERSED INTO CHRIST! a homily for the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, Year C (Luke 3:15–16, 21–22)

How strange John must’ve looked with his uncut hair and beard, wearing camel hair clothes and living on insects and wild honey.  Traditionally he was called ‘the Forerunner’, the one who went ahead of the Lord,  as well as ‘the Baptist’.  But he called himself the ‘bridegroom’s friend’, and the ‘voice of one calling in the wilderness.’  Here was a man from a priestly family who gave up everything to be totally at God’s service.  John himself identified the Lord as the ‘Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world’ and by calling himself the bridegroom’s friend he identified the Lord as the Bridegroom of Israel, that is, God Himself. 

John’s practice of baptism was not that unusual.  Throughout Israel archaeologists have found large pools cut from the stone for the Jewish purification practices.  They are called mikvahs and are still used by orthodox Jews to purify themselves whenever life makes them impure according to the Law.  So immersing oneself in water was quite common.  They had strict rules though about the kind of water one could use and how it was stored.  The best was fresh flowing water and this is why John is at the Jordan, the boundary of Israel, baptising, that is, immersing people in the flowing waters of Israel’s only major river.  He has placed himself outside and over against the structures of Judaism and offers what people long for: the promise of forgiveness, healing and restoration.  He does not promise to give these things but proclaims that the longing will soon be met.

John’s baptism is therefore symbolic.  It expresses a desire to change and a hope of restoration and renewal.   By submitting to John’s baptism our Lord identifies Himself with us, with our condition, with our holiest longings and gives us an example of humble submission to God.  By this baptism, by His immersion in the Jordan river He sanctifies the waters of the world for through His immersion into our material human nature He has sanctified matter itself.  The whole world is revealed and made holy by His becoming man.  His baptism, his immersion not just into the Jordan’s waters but into our very nature  has made  our baptism, our immersion into His Divine personhood possible.  By becoming one of us, one with us, He makes it possible for us to become one with Him for ever. 
His baptism makes our baptism possible.  Our baptism is an immersion into His death and resurrection, into His Divine Person so that through Him we share in  His Eternal Life.  Through baptism we are no longer mere human beings but our immortal souls have been given Eternal Life of God, a life to its fullness, a life our bodies will share in too on the last day.  
Jesus’ baptism is an act of profound humility.  Indeed the whole of his life, the whole of His incarnation right up to and including accepting suffering and death on the cross and burial in a tomb  was one long act of humility.  He was humbly revealing to us the One who sent Him, the Father.  Everything He did, said or though was about the Father.  He is the centre of His entire life.  On the Cross  He revealed, through His suffering and death, by means of His humility and obedience who worthy of love that Father is.  Not only that He made visible His eternal worship and love of the Father  and offered it to the Father on our behalf.  The sacrifice He offered on the Cross therefore infinitely outweighs any and all sins ever committed and all sins we could ever commit even if the entire human race did nothing but sin for all eternity.  

Not only that there’s more!  He did not merely offer a sacrifice to wipe away our sins.  His sacrifice gains for us the infinite gift of sonship.  As I have already said by our baptism we are immersed into Christ, into His Divine Person.  In baptism we put on Christ and share in His roles as priests, prophets and kings.  As priests we can offer our sacrifices to God through Christ and they will be accepted.  As prophets Christ can speak and act through us and as royalty we are full members of the royal family - the real royal family not the Mickey Mouse variety across the water.
There’s more!  Baptism makes each of us, male and female, young and old, whatever our nationality or culture, not just a child of God but a Son of the Father.  This means we share, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in His Sonship.  We are given a place in the very heart of God, in the very heart of the Most Holy Trinity.  When the Father looks at you He sees His Son, the Beloved.  When you pray He hears His Son.  This is not a mere veil, or a self-deception on God’s part.  It is not God turning a blind eye to our true nature.  In baptism our fallen human nature is changed and we are empowered to become one with Christ.  We are truly one with Him in the Sacraments and have His Holy Spirit in us. 
This is why sin is so terrible.  Sin is not the breaking or arbitrary rules or guidelines.  It is not just doing things our own way.  Sin is the violation of the moral law at the basis of our existence, that is woven into the very fibre of our being.  Sin is even worse for those of us who are baptised for it is an assault on the very likeness of Christ within us and a rejection of the infinitely beautiful and valuable gift He has given us.  It is through baptism and because of baptism that we are called to the heights of holiness so that the likeness of Christ shines out in us illuminating a world that is sunk in moral and intellectual darkness and devoid of hope and peace.  

If we take this gift seriously and embrace it, if we unwrap it and let it flourish within us we will bring great blessings on ourselves, on those we love and those we meet.  We will become saints and brings many, many souls to salvation.  If we live our baptism wholeheartedly the day will come when we will see God the Father and He will say to us “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

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