1 John 5:1-9
There’s something hardwired into us that wants to understand the unknown. I doubt that I’m the only one who, when presented with a gift bag with the nice paper sticking out the top, feels compelled to pull it aside to see if I might be able to get a glimpse of what lies inside before the time comes. And how many times did Christmas or birthdays come around and there we sat with a wrapped present in hand trying to figure out by size, shape, weight, and the sound it made, what was inside the box? And if we find out someone knows something we don’t we have to try to guess what it is or else have them tell us. It can happen in other ways too. One day at my first assignment I was visiting with the students at recess and we were having light saber wars (invisible, of course) and I was being teamed up when in the midst of the movement I looked down and there at my feet was a little boy, about 6 years old I’d say, laying on the ground trying to look up my cassock. I said to him, “That’s no acceptable. What are you doing?” and he replied, “I just wanted to see what was under there.” I talked to him for a moment and sent him off to play with the others.
In the course of the Christmas season we are given a generous gift from our heavenly Father who knows this desire of our heart to know the unknown and it comes in the form of revelations. This whole season is a series of revelations of ‘what’s under there’ in the Most Holy Trinity. To help us to understand who is this God? Who is this God who calls us to adore and worship Him? Who is this God who wants to save us? Who is this God that loves us? We see the revelation begin with the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity at Christmas, when we see that God has become man by taking up our lowly humanity and uniting it with His divinity. Days later we celebrate the Octave of Christmas and hear the gospel account of the circumcision of Christ, when this God-man becomes a member of a family of faith, a son of Abraham, a son of the Law. In the days to follow we hear of the Magi, shepherds, and countless others who come and bend the knee before this little infant whose birthday presents are no less than gold, frankincense and myrrh. These revelations bring us to today’s feast in the baptism of the Lord, marking the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time. Each of these feasts reveal some new aspect about Jesus Christ and rightly beg the question made familiar by the hymn: What child is this?
St. Maximus of Turin noted that the baptism of the Lord rightly sits as the conclusion of the Christmas season as it helps to bring to fulfillment five particular aspects of this revelation of the Christ. At Christmas we behold a little baby, a son of man and child of Mary. Today, in the baptism, we behold one who is not only son of man, but also the Son of God. At Christmas we honor a child born of a virgin and today we honor a child begotten of the Father from all eternity. At Christmas we picture the Blessed Virgin holding closely to her breast the child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Today we begin to understand that he rest even more deeply in the embrace of the Father and Holy Spirit. At Christmas we hear how Mary quietly ponders these things in her heart. Today the Heavenly Father tears open the heavens and proclaims ‘You are my beloved Son!’ At Christmas Christ is adored by the Magi, shepherds, animals, and others. Today He is held up to be worship by all people in all places forever.
The baptism of the Lord marks the end of the 30-year period of preparation and waiting and the beginning of the ministry of the Christ. Today begins anew the ‘work’ of salvation, when Christ preaches, teaches, and acts in order to bring salvation to us, the people to whom He has joined Himself. This revelation brings us the place where He can invite us to the work of our salvation, when we can begin to hear the ‘come follow me’ once more and respond. As we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, we recognize that while it is primarily about Him, it also indirectly shows us something about ourselves because as we understand Christ better, we understand ourselves better.
When it comes down to it, Christ didn’t need to be baptized. He had no need of it. Zero. He was sinless, having nothing from which to repent or be cleansed of. So why the baptism? For you and for me. In our baptism we had water poured over us (or we were immersed in water) and it changed us and brought about many wonderful effects. In the baptism of the Lord, it was not Christ was who changed and transformed, but rather it was the water poured out that was changed. Because of His baptism, every drop of water on this earth has the power to cleanse us from out sins by baptism. His baptism was truly for us and as such helps us to grasp something of ourselves. How so?
Christ was revealed as the Son of God. In our baptism, the first effect is that sin is washed clean. We are sinless, Christ-like in our purity. Christ was revealed further to be the eternally begotten Son of the Father. When God removes something from us, He always fills the empty space up once more. When he cast out original sin from our hearts He put grace in its place – He put His life in us and we too become sons and daughters of the Father in Christ. Christ is shown to be eternally in perfect union with the Father and Spirit. And in our baptism we are mystically united to Jesus Christ and His body, the Church. We, too, are joined forever the God the Father and the Holy Spirit by our sonship. At His baptism, the Father tears open the heavens to speak to His Son. And how often has He torn open the heavens to come to me? To us? How many times have I been in need and my heavenly Father came to my, though I might have been unaware at the moment? And lastly, Christ was held up to be worshipped by all nations. And with our baptism we become His ambassadors. At our baptism we received a candle and the priest said, “Receive the Light of Christ. Parents and Godparents, this light is to be kept burning brightly.” We now have mission not of going out to have people worship us, but of going out that the presence of Christ might be spread through the whole world and He be worshipped by all people. Our mission is to bring Christ and be Christ to others, and to reverence and see Christ in them.
The baptism of the Lord is a magnificent feast. It is one more of the thousand attempts of God to show us His love for us in helping us to understand ‘what’s under there.’ As we conclude this Christmas season, I invite each of you to not let the contemplative spirit of Christmas pass. What great fruit could be seen if throughout this year we continue to reflect on that question ‘what child is this?’ because as we contemplate the answer to that question we will come every more deeply to understand Whose children we really are.