Following closely upon the feast of Mary, Mother of God, we encounter another puzzling but pivotal celebration of an event in salvation history. Christ – God-become-Man – born sinless – is baptized in the River Jordan in a ritual action that forgives sin. What are we to make of this? Even John the Baptist acknowledges the strangeness of the situation, noting that he is not worthy of handling Christ’s sandals, let alone baptize him. John recognizes that his own baptism is a mere washing with water, but that Christ will clean with something far more powerful – the action of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the human soul. This is to say, after the Father created the world and the Son became incarnate with flesh like our own, the Holy Spirit is to take up residence within the human soul itself. God is not separate or distant, but intimately joined to each of us. We often describe baptism as a person’s entrance into the Church. This is true – not only in a symbolic way – but in a very real way. The Church is often described as the “Mystical Body of Christ.” With Jesus as the head, the members of his Church make up the body of the anointed Messiah. Paul recognizes this when he speaks of his suffering making up for what is lacking in the Cross of Christ. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was weak or insufficient, but that he has left a place for each of us to participate in his work of redeeming the world. Why was Christ baptized if it was not for the forgiveness of his sins, of which there were none? In some sense Christ carries all of humanity with him into the waters of the Jordan – just as he carries the whole of human evil and sin with him onto the Cross of Calvary. He the shepherd is leading us by sharing in the whole of the human experience. He is baptized because we must be baptized – a baptism of the Holy Spirit within a baptism of water. We hear those words of the Father, “You are my beloved son; with whom I am well pleased.” The Father speaks not only to Jesus, but to each of us, beloved sons and daughters of God himself.
With prayers and best wishes,
(Our Lady of the Presentation Parish)