09 January 2011


9 JANUARY 2011. Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, ending the Christmas season in the encounter with Saint John the Baptist at the River Jordan. Today's readings can be found here.

Liturgically, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord stands between Christmastide and ordinary time and, indeed, functions as the first Sunday of ordinary time. At the same time, however, the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan is one of the three manifestations that are central to the feast of the Epiphany: (1) the showing forth of the presence of God to the three magi; (2) the beginning of the Lord's miraculous ministry at the wedding feast in Cana; and (3) the revelation and descent of the Holy Spirit at the Lord's baptism in the River Jordan.

Today we are each called to recognize the personal benefit that each of us has gained from our own baptism: that is, the becoming the adopted children, brothers and sisters of Christ, of God the Father, through the gift of His only begotten Son.

The baptism of the Lord reveals Christ in two manners. First, Christ is revealed as the eternal Son of the Father, upon whom the favor of God continually rests. " And a voice came from the heavens, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" The Church teaches that this is the first revelation of the interior life of God, worshiped from of old by all of Israel, as the Holy Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Second, the Christ, who is called "Son" by God the Father, is of truly human estate and is also the son of Adam. Christ, being fully human, has possession of a soul and body. And Christ, at the same, is also fully God, incarnate in the world. The vision of the Holy Spirit descending on our Lord as a dove, then, represents a union of the Spirit with humanity in a way that is different from all of the Old Testament's prophets. The Spirit is Christ's own possession, to be given freely by His Will to humanity. As we hear in today's reading from Acts, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power." (Acts 10:38)

The Old Testament reading today from Isaiah is the first song of the mysterious suffering servant of the Lord. This servant has a kingly quality, being the "chosen one with whom [God is] pleased" (Is 42:1), but he also teaches the law of God by establishing justice on the earth. This servant-teacher does not impose God's will by force, but moves humanity through an inner conversion. "A bruised reed he shall not break . . . ." (Is 42:3) This reference to Christ's mercy for humanity is clear. We are all bruised reeds. But, the suffering servant is not sent to break us, but to redeem our broken humanity. That is why verses six and seven emphasize that the Messiah will lead His people gently into a spiritual vision, out of the darkness that has imprisoned them:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
We hear that Isaiah's servant will himself be a covenant for the people of God. In that covenant it is the Precious Blood of Jesus that efficaciously seals God's promise with His beloved people: to be called for "the victory of justice" (Is 42:6) As Christ says in today's reading from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, responding to Saint John's objection that he should be baptized by Christ:
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

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