Sunday, January 13, 2019

What does Jesus' baptism mean to you? (Sunday homily)

Today we recall the moment Jesus showed up 
on the banks of the Jordan River and asked to be baptized.

We might wonder, first: why did he do this, and second, 
why is this important to us? What does it mean?

First, consider the scene, as it is so striking.

John was baptizing people as an expression 
of their sorrow and repentance. 
In other words, they were admitting they were sinners. 
A crowd of them were waiting on the riverbank for their turn. 
And Jesus gets in that line.

It would be almost exactly like coming into church 
and people are waiting for confession – and Jesus himself joins them!  
The obvious question: Jesus, what are you doing here? 

And the answer is simple: 
Jesus came into the world to save sinners – namely, us. 
To that end, he puts himself squarely with us; in our situation. 
We recall that Jesus was always willing to go wherever it took, 
and he was criticized precisely for this. 
“How can he eat and associate with such people?” they said.

But this is a sign of something even more profound. 
Jesus came to earth as the new Adam. 
The first Adam rebelled and failed to keep God’s law, 
and that set the whole, sorry story of human history in motion. 
Jesus is the Son who is obedient. 
He fully does his Father’s will. He chooses God’s will over his own. 
And even more than that, Jesus accepts the punishment for sin 
that otherwise was due to Adam and all the rest of us.

So when Jesus came to be baptized, this meant he was accepting – 
before heaven and before the world – 
his vocation as the faithful Son, the new Adam, the Messiah.

So what is this baptism about? It’s about who Jesus is.
And, who you and I are when we belong to Jesus.

In his baptism, Jesus accepts the Cross, and all that would go with it.

Remember, that is precisely what your baptism and mine mean, too.
You didn’t realize it, but when you were baptized, 
you rejected sin and the devil, and you accepted the Cross.

You became part of Jesus; born again of water and the Holy Spirit.
In baptism, you died with Christ!
And you rose again to the new life 
he showed us in his own resurrection.

You didn’t know you did that, then.
But every time you renew your baptism, you choose it anew.
So that’s what the sprinkling of water a few minutes ago meant.
And that’s what our Creed means at each Mass.

You are accepting the Cross with Jesus.
He took our punishment and death; we take his, 
so that we may share his Resurrection. That’s the deal.
What’s more, in baptism, when we become part of Jesus, 
you and I also gain God as our Father. 
As Saint Paul said, we become “heirs of hope of eternal life.”
When Paul calls us “heirs,” that is no metaphor.
He means that literally.

Children not only inherit all the material wealth their parents owned, 
they inherit all that their parents are.

When children are conceived and born, 
What do people say? “You have your mother’s eyes!”
“You look just like your daddy!”
And as we grow to adulthood, like it or not,
it becomes more and more evident that we are their children.

So just think about what it means, then, to say, 
You and I are “heirs” with Jesus! 

It means, for one, that when the Father said, 
"You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased,”
He didn’t only say it to Jesus!
He said it to you and me, too!

He said it to you and to me, too!

That’s what it means to be a Christian.
Jesus takes our life with all that is shameful;
He gives us his life, with all that is glorious.

Of course, when we sin, when we forget Jesus, leave him behind,
the Father does not say, “I am well pleased.” 

But he did say that when you were baptized.
And when we come home again? When we go to confession? 
“I am well pleased,” he says.
When you and I live our vocation, however uncertainly, he says:
“This is my beloved son or daughter: with you I am well pleased!”

There are a lot of things that are hard about being a Christian, 
and challenging in each of our vocations.
Maybe you are single and wondering, what does God have for me?
Are you called to be a priest or in religious life?
That seems so scary and you may think, I’m not holy enough.
And by the way, you’re not. No one is. Don’t let that stop you!

Or, you are married, 
and you despair of ever being a good enough parent. 
Every mistake is always on your mind.

Perhaps you are a young person, and you hate being asked, 
“what are you going to do with your life?” Because you have no clue!

In recent homilies, I’ve talked about 
how sometimes people don’t fit the usual mold, the usual expectations. 
That can be really, really difficult, 
and by our words and actions, you and I can make it worse, 
or we can be a beacon of hope and friendship.

But here’s the thing. A lot more people, especially young people,
find they don’t fit in, feel like they are odd or different.
No one wants to admit it, but everyone feels that! 

No matter who you are, Jesus got in line with you!
The Holy Spirit came down on you!
And the Father says to you: “You are my beloved child. 
With you I am well pleased!”

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