In this week’s gospel passage it is quite important to grasp the drama of this scene of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus. We have listened to and enjoyed the wonderful stories of the travel of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the actual Birth of Jesus in the stable, the arrival of shepherds, and then finally the arrival of mysterious kings, the Magi, from the East. Our hearts have been warmed by the beauty of this magnificent story of the Lord’s Birth. And now we hear the story of the adult Jesus and the beginnings of his public ministry of preaching and healing and calling all to the Kingdom of God. The “quiet” of the Christmas story and the young life of Jesus have now ended; the second “epiphany” of Jesus now takes place as he walks with dignity and strength to the banks of the Jordan River. The same as Christmas night, the heavens open and a servant and beloved Son is again given to us.
When Isaiah prophesized, this beloved servant was without a name. Bear in mind, though, that the chosen and beloved one had a mission to act on our behalf, freeing us from blindness and all the various prisons we build for ourselves. This beloved servant will destroy the darkness we create. His compassion will be beyond limitless. That is what the great prophet Isaiah tells us. His graced prophecy directs us to the banks of the Jordan River where we identify the beloved servant at the beginning of his mission.
Jesus approaches the Jordan River’s edge and offers himself up to a baptism of repentance. He identifies with all of us as sinners. This powerfully shocks John the Baptist, whose great protest is overruled by Jesus. Jesus is following the will of the Father. This action is validated when the skies open wide and heaven reaches down to earth as Jesus arises from the water. Indeed, here is God’s beloved Son; here is the one on whom God’s favor rests.
On the banks of the Jordan the Father is present and the descending Spirit appears in the form of a dove; and simultaneously the Son rises up from the water to begin his mission. The writer of the fourth Gospel sets forth a Trinitarian vision of God at this scene at the Jordan River. This is a clear epiphany, or manifestation, of God. Note that Jesus began his public life identifying with us and being identified by his Father.
The Church’s celebration of the Baptism of the Lord brings our ponderings on the Feast of Christmas to a conclusion. This Sunday shifts our focus to the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ. Recall that the name, Jesus, means “the Lord saves.” Mary was told by Gabriel that her child’s name would be Jesus, because he would save the people from their sins. On this Feast Day we are introduced to the compassionate and merciful Savior. He is truly the beloved one on whom the Father’s favor rests. The ancient prophet Isaiah describes his wondrous compassion.
Also note that the second reading sends us off in a worldwide direction for this is the first recorded baptism of a gentile. The Holy Spirit helps Peter to grow and understand that Jesus shows no partiality and that he is Lord of All. The light of Christmas shines for one and for all. Jesus began his ministry at the Jordan and invites all of his followers to spread the word to everyone. We are to witness to Him to the ends of the earth.
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