The first Sunday of Ordinary time and the last Sunday of the Christmas season in the new calendar is the Baptism of the Lord. We still continue to meditate on the growth in wisdom and grace of the Child Jesus until the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd, but we begin the transition to the apostolic period of Christ’s life with the feast of His Baptism. What defines this moment? How does the feast of His Baptism help us begin to reap the fruits of the Christmas Season and live out the Christian mystery in the ordinary of our lives?
Christmas and Epiphany are great occasions of joy because we are visited by our saving God with simplicity and peace. He makes Himself known as pure gift and makes Himself vulnerable – a little baby. How will we receive this gift? How will we care for this Child? How can we protect Him from the world? The Holy Family goes into hiding to protect Him, and He does not complain or try to escape. He lets them know again about His true mission when He remains in Jerusalem to question the teachers in the Temple, but He returns obediently to their home in Nazareth and continues quietly until He’s thirty years old.
To be saved by a baby is certainly a powerful image, but it also leaves out certain things. A baby can save you from your selfishness because it draws you out of yourself, a baby can save you from a sense of hopelessness because it makes you consider new possibilities for life. A baby can save you from inner struggles by reordering and refocusing your attention, but a baby cannot save you from powerful external forces.
At Christ’s baptism, it is revealed to us how this child who was destined to be a sign of contradiction, will also the Emmanuel who saves His people. Jesus is now a grown man, so His baptism is something He takes on as an adult. In His baptism he changes and deepens the purpose of the water He created in the beginning of the world. Water, always associated with life, with what is necessary for life, with what is able to cleanse and purify, with what fills the womb that gives birth, is recreated when Jesus is baptized.
John the Baptist has called Israel, and by extension all of humanity to repentance. John’s baptism represents this deep desire we have to be made new, to be made clean, to be at peace before God. When Jesus is baptized He actually transforms the water with which he was baptized to give it this deeper purpose. Baptism now saves us from our sin. The sign of this is the peace dove that rests upon Jesus after his baptism. He shows us that baptism – our baptism in Him – brings us into peace with God the Father, and makes us His beloved sons and daughters. Let us recall the grace of our baptism, and return to the peace of our new birth.