With The Light of Christ
By Andrew Casad, Steward for Christian Initiation & Matrimony
“Jesus…was baptized in the Jordan by John” (Mark 1:9). Each year we conclude the celebration of the Christmas season with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. But why was Jesus baptized? Wasn’t he already the Son of God? Indeed the announcement of “the voice from the heavens” makes it clear: “You are my beloved Son!” So what effect might baptism have on Jesus if he had no sin to be washed away? Even John the Baptist wondered these things when he asked Jesus why the Lord was coming to him for baptism rather than the other way around (see Mathew 3:14-15). There are at least two dimensions to this event that I want to explore with you.
We ordinarily and rightly think of baptism as that sacrament by which we are set free from sin and become a child of God. Since Jesus was already such by nature he had no need for baptism for himself. But, in order that we might become by sacramental grace what he is by nature, Jesus willingly chose to go down into the waters of rebirth. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord can be thought of as the third panel in a triptych: the shepherds kneeling at the manger, the Magi bringing gifts from the East, and the voice from the heavens all testify and reveal to us who Jesus Christ is. He is Emmanuel, God dwelling among his people. God humbles himself to become human, accepting even death, to redeem all of human nature. His baptism does not only announce, but also like every sacrament, Jesus’ baptism effects what it signifies, it makes real what it reveals. The Incarnation changes everything it touches! And so, just as the Ark of the Covenant which Joshua directed the priests to carry across that same River Jordan hallowed those waters which then became the path of salvation for the Israelites entering the Promised Land (Joshua 3:14-17), Jesus’ passing under the waters transforms those waters, reversing their flow toward the Dead Sea as it were, and imparts to them a supernatural capacity of regeneration and salvation. In other words, if Jesus had not been baptized, water would have no power to cleanse and save. We show this forth each year at the Easter Vigil when, by plunging the Paschal Candle into the baptismal font, the waters therein are consecrated, the water is made holy through the immersion of that same Light of Christ whose manifestation is what we celebrate at Christmastide.
But, you might ask, why didn’t Jesus, who is our High Priest, simply immerse himself in the River Jordan? Surely Jesus didn’t need John to do so and could have stretched out his own hand or taken a dive into the water to make it holy? Here we come to a key point of our annual celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Jesus wants to partner with John in bringing about God’s saving work. He wants John to share in his master’s joy! For there is nothing more joyful than bringing another to encounter the saving love of Jesus Christ. In his baptism Jesus establishes the Church as his partner, his bride, a spotless virgin washed clean in baptism, who is sent forth to do the same thing he was sent by the Father to do. In the first year of his pontificate, Pope Francis drew our attention to the way in which no one baptizes himself and that all who are baptized are immersed into Christ and his body. By baptism we are connected as links in a great chain of faith (see the document here). In the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord we hear Jesus pose a question to each of us: will you partner with me in the work of salvation? Will you make my name known and baptize as I have commanded you? This is not a work entrusted only to priests and deacons but, as Pope Francis teaches, this is the joyful work given to every Christian as a missionary disciple. Each and every one of us is invited to share the Good News of Jesus Christ! Through baptism we have indeed been adopted as sons and daughters of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and given everything we need to add more links to the chain of faith.
As a parish we are invited to accompany our catechumens et al in their preparation for the sacraments of Christian initiation (RCIA), to partner with Christ by serving as sponsors for these men and women, to pray for our brothers and sisters on their spiritual journey, and offer them our support as they make their way towards those waters of rebirth. And I can tell you from experience that there is nothing more joyful and life-giving than to have a front row seat to Jesus’ work of salvation! As missionary disciples we are called to reach out to our friends, neighbors, and coworkers and invite them to encounter Jesus Christ. Will you partner with Jesus in making His name known? Our Alpha course begins online this week. Who could you invite, who will you touch with the Light of Christ, and hand on the Christian faith?
You can learn more about our Alpha course and register here and discover more about how a person becomes Catholic here.