If you are looking at a particular sermon and it is removed it is because it has been updated.

For example Year C 2010 is being replaced week by week with Year C 2013, and so on.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Baptism of the Lord Year C 2019

The Baptism of the Lord (Year C)

(Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38; Gospel of St. Luke 3:15-16, 21-22)


We are given precise historical details by St. Luke about the beginning of John the Baptist’s preaching, before he then goes on to tell us the nature of John’s personal calling and the essence of his message for Israel:

The word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness, and he went into all the country around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

We see something of the vehemence and utter commitment of John’s character –characteristics he had shown even before his birth by leaping for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth at Jesus’ proximity in Mary -- in John’s preaching which had been long-matured before God alone in the desert where John had, incidentally, become well acquainted with vipers; for, when brush fires broke out in the heat of summer, they could be seen scurrying into the open to escape the flames before hiding themselves again.  And so, by the grace of his calling to learn from and commune with God in the desert, John learned to recognize vipers of all varieties, ultimately and most especially those of a human kind whom he addressed directly even though they were trying to hide themselves among the crowds now surrounding him:

He said (began saying) to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?’  Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance.

With such a man, son of priestly stock and living a quite extraordinarily penitent and holy life, it is easy to understand that, as St. Luke tells us;

The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.

John’s very life style was a condemnation and yet a calling, a re-calling, and his words to those coming to him in their search for truth about Israel’s God and His will for them were in agreement with his extraordinary dress and manner of living: John satisfied their desires by calling for a ‘repentance’ that involved a  change of life to be proved by appropriate actions, such as rejecting sin, practicing self-denial, and showing fraternal charity – ‘works worthy of repentance’ John called them – while, and above all, WAITING, WATCHING and LONGING for the One to come.  There were to be no claims of personal righteousness based on descent from ‘father Abraham’ or works of the Law, for the supreme work of those seeking baptism from John would consist in their watching, waiting and longing together with John for:

One mightier than I (who) is coming and He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Jesus had by this time lived a quiet life for nearly 18 years in Nazareth after having stayed behind in Jerusalem unknown to Mary and Joseph on pilgrimage and being found by them after three days in the Temple.  He had returned obediently with them to Nazareth and, as far as we know, nothing ‘special’ had happened to Him during those subsequent years.  He would have heard of all the hopes and expectations being aroused by His relative John the Baptist and -- because God His Father, Whom He loved above all, moved in mysterious ways most especially with Jesus Himself -- I suspect Jesus wondered why God’s work was apparently going-on whilst He Himself knew nothing of it.   Under His Father’s secret inspiration -- which Isaiah referred to as His grasping Jesus by the hand -- that inspiration which had guided Him in Jerusalem all those years ago and would guide Him later to His Transfiguration, Jesus decided to go and look for His Father: He would look where God’s divine presence seemed most at work and join up with the pilgrims surrounding John for baptism.   There, He joined those like Himself, those who were looking for God.   The most devout seemed to be humbly queueing and waiting for baptism and Jesus -- looking exclusively for His Father -- had no pride that hindered Him from joining such a queue.

However, the purpose of His Father’s mysterious call to Him was about to become manifest at this moment of Jesus’ sublime humility, and it was to be for His Son’s great glory, for:

Our Gospel passage tells us nothing more; but later on, when Jesus was praising John as the ‘greatest of those born of women’ we learn that:

All the people who listened, including the tax collectors, and who were baptized with the baptism of John, acknowledged the righteousness of God; but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him, rejected the plan of God for themselves. (Luke 7:29–30)

John proclaimed and manifested as perfectly as was then possible the essential nature of Christian repentance: it is nothing other the acceptance, the embracing, of God’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  All who would truly accept Him as their God-sent Lord and Saviour would be taught by Him, by His Spirit, in His Church, what actions would befit their personal love for and obedience to Him.

St. Luke’s presentation of John the Baptist and Jesus in the Baptism is confirmed for us by Jesus Himself in St. Johns Gospel, where He addressed Jews proud of their paternity with Abraham:

Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” So they said to Him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the One He sent.” (John 6:27–29)

Now we turn our attention to the other face of John’s Baptism of Jesus:

After Jesus had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven saying: ‘You are My beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.’

Notice, dear People of God, that this picture painted for us by St. Luke concerns only God in heaven and Jesus, with the Spirit of Love uniting them; it is exclusively Personal to the heavenly Father and His incarnate Son, there are no words to or for any other people.  Obviously,  John the Baptist must have overheard or we would know nothing of the event, but it was a moment in time totally and absolutely sacred to the Father and His Son; the Spirit of Love between Father and Son does not speak for the Father’s words of love manifest His presence, and He is seen in the form of a dove because Jesus our prospective Saviour and the Christ of God is being confirmed and prepared for His mission of salvation.

For about eighteen years Jesus lived and worked as an ordinary young man of Nazareth outwardly no different than other young town-members.   Nothing happened that marked Him out; hadn’t Mary and Joseph when missing Him those years ago expected first of all that He was with some other family of the pilgrimage playing with their sons?  Those eighteen years of repeated ordinariness of common life and living had, however, been penetrated and formed by a Personal discipline of praying, watching, and waiting, so that when the Father ‘grasped His hand’, Jesus knew it was a call, a call from His heavenly Father and, leaving Mary and all the ordinariness of His Nazareth life behind, He went where it seemed His Father was present and at work … oh! such patience, such humility, such invincible longing for His Father in heaven!!

            My beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.

Jesus is the perfect reflection of His Father’s glory, and as He was probably still dripping water after John’s baptism He heard His Father addressing Him Personally and became aware of the Spirit-of-Love-uniting-them now resting upon Himself … this was preparing Him for His imminent Public Mission just as something similar would later prepare Him for His Passion and Death.  Never again would men look on Him and see no-one special: henceforward He would be either whole-heartedly loved and sought-for, or avoided by the craven and hated supremely by His enemies.   But never again would He be just Jesus, a mere somebody from Nazareth. 

Dear People of God, this event was no routine baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, it was, if I may risk the word, the sublimation of Jesus by His heavenly Father:

He is the effulgence of God’s glory, the very imprint of His Being, and Who sustains all things by His mighty word.  (Hebrews 1:3)