ISAIAH 55:1-11; 1 JOHN 5:1-9; LUKE 3:15, 16, 21-22

Baptism of the Lord

AFTER JESUS WAS BAPTIZED A VOICE CAME FROM HEAVEN: "YOU ARE MY BELOVED SON; WITH YOU I AM WELL PLEASED."  We arrive today at the end of that Christmas season as we commemorate the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, received from the hands of John the Baptist.  That this baptism is replete with meanings of high significance was abundantly manifest already at the time it took place.  John's baptism of those who came to him marked a fresh beginning resulting from a resolve to make God's law the guide to life.  At the same time the Baptist made it clear that his mission was provisional and rather a means of preparing, as he put it, for "One mightier than I . . . he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."  In Luke's version John adds "and with fire."

Jesus himself gave a fresh meaning to the event as he replied to John's hesitancy that was due to his recognizing in the Lord a holiness that had no need for a rite of repentance.  By way of persuading John to administer baptism to him he explained that in submitting to this sign of cleansing he was carrying out a divine plan that represents a new stage on the way to God that he refers to as "the fulfilling of all righteousness."  John was not the only witness to Jesus on this eventful occasion.  Mark informs us that that as Jesus "came out of the water" the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove.  A voice [that of the Father] came from the heavens: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."  Thus to John's human witness was added that of all three persons of the Trinity.  Decades later the beloved apostle John's writing to the Churches in today's second reading was to refer to three witnesses to Jesus as the Son of God.  He writes: "there are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water and the blood. And all three of them agree" (1 John 5: 7, 8)

In observing this feast commemorating our Lord's baptism on this octave day of the Epiphany, the liturgy is faithful to a tradition that views the Baptism of Jesus as an aspect of the Epiphany, that is, of the manifestations of his divine nature and his mission of salvation.  The early Church Fathers understood this connection.  Just as the gifts of the Magi were understood as signs expressive of his divine nature and the mission assigned him by God for our salvation, so also the Evangelist presents the baptism as a revelation of his transcendent person as the Son of God, acting under the influence of the Spirit of God.

In celebrating with this Eucharist the baptism of our Lord, we are acting in obedience to the invitation of Isaiah the prophet that we heard in today's first reading: "All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come receive grain and eat, come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk . . . that you may have life."  So that this liturgy today, in each of these three readings invites us to renew our personal commitment to the Lord Jesus who freely gives himself to us in this Sacred meal.  His Baptism is another Epiphany that manifests to each of us that in the words of Scripture and in this Eucharist we are offered freely the life of God himself, inviting us to open our hearts in loving faith to the light that is life eternal.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger