9 January 2011 Feast of the Lord’s Baptism
Isaiah 42: 1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10: 34-38; Matthew 3: 13-17
Three choir members in my area in Payatas were sorting through items in our post-Christmas rummage sale. Ann looked at a tray of assorted jewelry and found them all junk. Juliet found an old cross pendant and said it was a treasure. She went home and polished it and wore it the next Sunday. Krystel looked at the cross and said, “It is good you wear Jesus all the time.” With one object, one would see junk, another a treasure, and yet another Jesus.
At the beginning of Ordinary Time, it is good to remind ourselves about approaching the Word of God. We will be listening to the same stories as last year or even the year before. And our tendency is to dismiss them and say, “I know that story.” Experience tells us that just as Ann, Juliet and Krystel saw one object differently, we can see the Gospel in three different ways. We can listen to it; learn from it; and then apply it to our life and live it.
The Baptism of Jesus is one story that we already know. When John baptized Jesus, the sky was opened, the Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice spoke from heaven. We simply listen to this story.
However, we can push this deeper by asking for their meaning. What do we mean by the sky opened? Our default imagination of God and all things holy are from above. What separates us from the heavens is that God is ‘up there’ while we are ‘down here.’ The same thing with the Israelites. There is a separation between the earth and the sky.
So when the sky opened, it means that God wanted to come down to the earth. That is why the prophet Isaiah (64:1) said, “Why don’t you tear the sky open and come down.” When the Lord ‘breaks’ this barrier and comes down, it means that He has heard our prayers and He is coming to save us. No wonder, the story of the Baptism of Jesus begins His public ministry because a new age has began.
Now remember Genesis. In creation, the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the waters. Therefore, when the Spirit descended it means that a new creation has began. In St. Ignatius terms, it means that God has decided to ‘re-create’ us once again, the way potters re-molds the clay after a disastrous attempt.
And finally, the Lord says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Jesus is therefore recognized. That is why tradition has it that the Baptism of the Lord is the “end” of the Christmas season, because the Baptism is a declaration of Jesus’ authenticity as God’s Son.
In our lives, a ‘re-creation’ has happened in baptism. Our baptism reminds us that we are children of God, and therefore, we have put on a different identity. In a deeper sense, when we were baptized, the skies were opened, the Spirit descended on us, and we had become a new creation as a child of God. So St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins, and now, you have been brought back to life with Christ.”
This Sunday, as we ended the celebration of the new year, we can look deeply into ourselves as a new creation. That God has given us a fresh start on our lives.
On one hand, we have already been changed in baptism. But on the other hand, we are also works in progress. We have to re-think our lives, make a personal evaluation of the past year, and perhaps, amend our ways with practical and reachable goals. (An article I wrote about making spiritual assessments is here.) This is in view what our selves are constantly recreated and re-formed by the Lord.
When we recite the “I believe… “ we are reminded of our promises to believe in the Trinity at our individual baptisms. When we profess our faith every Sunday, it is to remind ourselves that God has given us another opportunity to improve our lives according to our dignity as children of God. In many ways, Sunday renews our lives weekly.