Sunday, January 11, 2015
How awesome is this feast! (Baptism of the Lord homily)
This is the last feast of the Christmas Season.
And it might be confusing,
since it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Christmas.
Here, Jesus isn’t a child, but a full-grown man.
But it does – because this shows why Christmas happened.
Jesus was born to grow up, after all;
and to go and say and do things to save us.
This feast recalls something he did at the very beginning.
He goes to John to be baptized.
Stop and think about that.
Everyone who was in line, at the Jordan River, to be baptized,
was doing so for repentance of sins.
It’s like the line for the confessional.
They were there to tell God they were sorry for their sins
and ask forgiveness.
What if the Lord Jesus came and got in line for our confessional?
Can you imagine what that would be like for the priest?
If I’m sitting in the confessional, and the Lord came in!?
I imagine John the Baptist must have felt that way, don’t you?
Here’s why our Lord did that.
He came to earth to be with us. He stands in solidarity with us.
Everything in the Gospels shows us this.
He works with us, he eats what we eat, he walks with the disciples,
he prays with us, he gets tired the way we get tired.
So he stands with sinners.
Literally stands with them, as they all waited their turn
to step into the river to be baptized.
While they waited, what happened?
Did Jesus stand aloof—
did he keep his hands folded and his head down?
Did he talk to the others? Did he ask about them?
Did he pray with them?
It calls to mind what I shared with you last weekend,
about our task – from the Lord –
to share our Faith with everyone around us;
to reach out, to be friends and companions with others.
Sooner or later, that means neighbors we may not know very well.
Maybe folks whose life and experiences are very unlike ours.
What do we do?
I don’t mean to be glib about this.
Some of us can see a crowd, and plunge in.
But for others, that’s the hardest thing imaginable.
My point is that we accept as our task
to care about the needs of others;
but we may not all do it the same way.
So, for example, a number of us are planning
to go to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life,
to pray for conversion of our country and the laws
so that we end abortion.
Some of you are really hardcore – you’re riding a bus all night,
both ways! I’m not quite that saintly!
I’m taking an airplane—but it’ll be coach!
But many of us can’t go, because of family or work
or because of health, or it’s just too overwhelming.
But we are collecting funds to help meet the expenses of the bus trip –
can you help with that?
There’s a prayer vigil to see people off the night before –
can you come to that?
Will you be in solidarity in prayer
while folks are praying and walking in Washington?
One way or the other, every single one of us
can find a way to “stand with.”
Once we decide we’re willing to do as Jesus did –
to stand with others in their trials and pain and searching –
then if we don’t know how, don’t worry about that.
Jesus himself will show you how; just ask him.
The other aspect of this event
that is worth reflecting on is baptism itself.
Just as this event – Jesus being baptized –
is about God coming to be where we were,
our baptism, our sharing in the life of the sacraments,
accomplishes the reverse:
it is about God bringing us to be where he is.
When we have a baptism, part of it is a litany of the saints.
We “call ahead” to let the saints know, another one is one the way!
Am I saying it’s that easy to become a saint? Yes!
But staying a saint is much harder –
which takes us back to the confessional line!
But to reiterate, baptism—
along with the whole of our life as Christians—
is about us becoming saints. That’s our destiny.
Right after baptism comes anointing with sacred chrism:
that’s the very fragrant oil
that’s also used for confirmation,
for anointing a priest’s hands when he’s ordained,
and for consecrating an altar and a church before it’s used.
It can only be blessed by the bishop.
That chrism signifies what we see happen in the Gospel.
The Lord Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit;
the Father declares from heaven, “You are my beloved son.”
Now, Jesus himself didn’t need these things to happen;
he already had them from eternity.
They happened for the benefit of the rest of us, as we look on.
Both to tell us that Jesus really is the Messiah;
but also, to tell us what our baptism means.
In baptism, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit;
we are told, by God, we are his beloved child,
in whom he is “well pleased.”
How perfect this feast is!
When we get in line to acknowledge our sins,
we find Jesus standing right there with us!
And when we get our turn at confession,
we hear the Father say, “I am well pleased.”
Isn’t that awesome? How wonderful is that?
What more do we need?