The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord

What was John the Baptist like? We hear in the Scriptures that he had rough clothes and an ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ diet. This was not to kick-start an ailing television career; it seems to have been part of who he was. He was clearly forceful and forthright – people flocked to him in repentance and he didn’t pull his punches even when preaching to and about King Herod.

John's straight-talking approach seems to cast a spell on many – even Herod liked to listen to him. It is clear that he was one of those public speakers who could win hearts and minds and if he had been tempted to seek glory for himself it would have been a possibility.

We are so used to the idea that John quietly stepped to one side when Jesus came that we take it for granted. But John was truly a remarkable person without ambition or jealousy.

Despite all his talents and powers he recognises that the one who follows is far greater than he could dream of being. Even more provoking is the humility in his self-portrayal as unworthy even to undo the sandal-strap of Jesus.

Does John speak humbly because he has a low opinion of himself or is it because he realises how important Jesus is? Jesus said at one stage that of all the prophets there had never been a greater than John the Baptist. So Jesus knew how important he was and yet he went on to say that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.

There is a lesson for us here. Humility is not about saying that we are terrible or hating ourselves. Instead it is about looking at others and seeing how tremendous they are and how we give them due credit. We recognise that John was truly great and Jesus wants us to realise that there is something even greater going on in us.

This takes us to the difference between what Jesus and John did.

The greatest prophet baptised people with water for forgiveness of their sins. This was important as it reminds us that we all need to turn back to God and to this day there is the important idea that Baptism is about inner conversion and forgiveness.

But John knows that Jesus brings something different – he will baptise with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been sent among us for the forgiveness of sins so this reinforces the idea of John’s Baptism. But there is more. If we are to wonder what it means to receive th kind of Baptism that Jesus brings the explanation follows immediately in the telling of the story.

When Jesus was baptised a voice is heard proclaiming him to be the Father's beloved Son and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove.

The Baptism of the Lord

From this moment onwards Baptism is changed. It takes on a new quality that takes us beyond our being forgiven to our being made like Jesus - a child of God. We believe Jesus is God’s only and eternal Son and he gives to us a special dignity. In the Sacrament of Baptism he adopts us into his family giving us the Holy Spirit and making us heirs with him to the kingdom.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord closes the Season of Christmas. In a way it tells us what the story has been all about. Beyond the beauty of the Nativity Story and behind the glow in our minds of the manger in the stable with shepherds and magi there is purpose. Jesus the Son of God is born the Son of Mary so that you and I might be born again.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord starts the new period of Ordinary Time when we shall hear of Jesus preaching his Good News by word and wonder. The message is that we are family and we are loved.

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