Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On The Baptism of the Lord

John the Baptist was always careful to deny that he was the Christ. When questioned about his identity, he kept saying that he was the voice crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. He kept saying that he baptized with water but the one who comes after him is greater than him for he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. “You yourself can testify that I said that I am not the Christ, but that I was sent before him.” (John 3:22-30). He even considered himself unworthy to unstrap the Lord’s sandals.

Thus, we understand his hesitation to baptize the Lord in the Jordan River: “I need to be baptized by you and yet you are coming to me.” And what he said was true. Jesus came to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire and that was what the Lord did to John while both of them were still in their mothers’ wombs. At the Visitation, Jesus sanctified John in the womb of Elizabeth his mother and so he leapt in his mother’s womb.

Inferior to the baptism that Jesus brings was the baptism which John performed in the River Jordan. It was only a baptism of repentance. And so Jesus who had no sin did not need this baptism. He simply had no need to repent. It was not Jesus who needed John. It was John who needed Jesus.

“Allow it now for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” Jesus assured John. Here we see the depth of the humility of the Incarnate Word. The Master submits to the servant. The Word submits to the voice. The Bridegroom submits to the friend of the bridegroom. The Word of God, by assuming the humility of our human nature, now stands in solidarity with all humanity. The Sinless One stands with sinners in the River Jordan. He is immersed in the waters not to be cleansed from sin but to cleanse the world from sin. He stands naked in the river Jordan in order to cover the nakedness of Adam’s children with the grace of the Holy Spirit. When we bathe in water, we are purified while the water is stained by our filth. When Jesus bathed in the water, it was the water that was purified by his bath. And this he is able to do because he is the Only begotten Son of God.

On the night of his birth, the angels proclaimed him Lord and Christ. The old prophets Simeon and Anna called him the Light of all nations and the Glory of Israel. The Magi called him the New-born King. John the Baptist called him the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Today, the Father calls him by a special name which only He could give: “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Yes, today, we have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son, filled with grace and truth. That glory descended on the earth and the earth was filled with light. That glory immersed itself in the waters and the waters are purified. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good, and healing all those oppressed by the devil for God was with him.”

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