Homily: The Baptism of the Lord – Cycle C
On January 8th, 1978, a baby boy was baptized at Saint Mary Nativity Catholic Church. Little did his parents and godparents know at the time that this boy would be destined to stand one day right where I am standing and preach to you, the good people of this parish, the Good News of Jesus Christ. No, they could not know this as the mysterious plans of God would take this boy far and wide until that day that he would come here, carrying this most important news. “Who is this boy?” you might be asking. “Who is this boy destined to bring us Good News?” Well, my friends, it’s… me. It’s just me.
You know, I remembered my baptism anniversary this past week and I realized that the whole thing was rather… undramatic. So, I thought I’d try to infuse a little drama into it here in my homily. My guess is that, for just about everyone here, the same is true. So true that I’m willing to bet that there aren’t five people in this church who know when their baptism anniversary is. Am I right? Raise your hands if you know the date of your baptism. Almost all of us here do not remember the date of our baptism. And why? Well, probably because they were all pretty undramatic, I suppose. Nonetheless, hidden below the surface, incredibly dramatic things happened.
Jesus’ baptism, on the surface, wasn’t very dramatic either. In fact, Luke’s Gospel barely gives it a sentence. He wrote: “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying...” That’s it. No drama. Just another dip in the water like the multitudes of others that had been coming to John for his “baptism of repentance”. Under the surface, however, this was incredibly dramatic.
Imagine for a moment that you are standing in line for confession; and imagine that this is a “regular” confession for you: one in which you don’t feel the anxiety of anything major to confess, but nonetheless have acknowledged that there are some things in your life that need the grace of God’s forgiveness. Look up and down the line. You’ll see some folks you recognize and others you do not. Now imagine that one of those folks is Jesus. Which one? Who knows? But this is the situation in which Jesus comes to be baptized by John. Jesus, a guy who looks like anyone else, comes to receive John’s baptism of repentance. He waits his turn, enters the river, and allows John to baptize him. After, he prays. No drama. Hidden below the surface, however, something incredibly dramatic happened: something mostly obscured by what happened after.
What happened after was this great theophany—the manifestation of the Holy Trinity—as the skies were torn open and the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the voice of God the Father was heard declaring to him that he is his “beloved Son”. This was pretty dramatic, to be sure. This public manifestation of Jesus’ identity steals the stage from the drama that happened in the water. The hidden drama in the water, however, was no less significant.
When you and I were baptized, I’ll bet that the most dramatic thing that happened outwardly was that the priest poured too much water and got some in your eyes or your godfather dropped your lit candle on the carpet. Nonetheless a great drama happened, unseen to any of us: we were cleansed of sin, the Spirit of God descended upon us, and we were permanently sealed by God, marking us as his beloved children. Incredible! Something permanent and infinitely irrevocable happened to us with what looked like nothing more than a splash of water. This hidden drama of our baptism, though, wouldn’t have been possible without the hidden drama of Jesus’.
You see, what happened at Jesus’ baptism was not God’s adoption of him (as some ancient writers had proposed—as if he hadn’t always been God’s Son and as if he just happened to be, like, the “one-millionth-customer”; thus, winning the grand prize of becoming God’s son). Rather, what happened at his baptism was the sanctification of water as the means of new life. Jesus did not need John’s baptism: he had no need of repentance. Yet he shows us the depths of his humility by submitting to John’s baptism anyway. In doing so he purified the waters of baptism and made them powerful: able to effect the hidden drama that happens at every baptism that we celebrate today and to be the sign of new life that it inaugurates.
The public manifestation that Jesus is the Son of God was the outward expression of new life that his baptism brought. From that moment, Jesus’ hidden life in Nazareth was over and his life of public ministry was inaugurated. So, too, for us. Once the hidden drama of baptism unfolded, a new life in faith was inaugurated for each of us. We were incorporated into Christ and, thus, we can now no longer live a hidden life. Rather, our lives must consist in being manifestations of the truths that have been revealed to us throughout this Christmas season: that Jesus is the divine person in human flesh—the Son of God—and that he has come to save us.
My brothers and sisters, none of us needs screenwriters to make our baptisms seem more dramatic. There is a depth of drama already built in, hidden under the surface. What we need, however, is to let the ensuing drama—the drama of the manifestation of Jesus to the world—play out in our lives by proclaiming this Good News (with our mouths!), by living upright and holy lives (for the Saint Paul tells us that “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age”), and by serving those in need, no matter where we are.
My brothers and sisters, God has called each of us to be a manifestation—an epiphany—of his presence to the world. As we enter into Ordinary Time let us resolve to respond to that call, so that the drama of each of our lives might lead to the greater glory of him: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who lives and reigns forever and ever… AMEN!
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – January 13th, 2019