Jan. 12—The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 42: 1-4, 60-7; Psalm 29, R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.; Acts 10: 34-38; Gospel: Matthew 3: 13-17
Today we celebrate the last day of the Christmas season with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Let me invite you to reflect on this event in the life of Jesus from three perspectives.
One is from the viewpoint of the Gospel last Thursday, Jan. 9, from Luke, in which the Lord declares the beginning of his ministry. Two is from the outlook of the Lord knowing more clearly who he is and why he is here. Three is our own transition from Christmas to ordinary time.
Last Thursday’s Gospel gives us a beautiful prelude to the Lord’s life and ministry. He begins inside the synagogue and reads the prophecy from Isaiah. Thus, he places himself in continuity with God’s story of salvation.
His opening statement, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” further deepens his relationship with God, and makes clear that his work will be led by the Spirit of God.
Then he describes his mission, “to bring glad tidings to the poor… proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4: 18-19)—thus establishing God’s Kingdom here on earth.
He ends with the declaration that all this will be fulfilled now, then takes the ministry from its proclamation inside the synagogue to its implementation out in the world.
We will appreciate this more by using the lens of the second perspective, Jesus’ identity and mission. In the Baptism narrative, which is the vocation moment of Jesus, we see what is called a beatific vision which, in Christian theology, “is the ultimate direct self-communication of God to the individual person.”
This sets the stage for Jesus’ living out of his ministry, a classic “begin with the end in mind” approach. This is Jesus’ very first pivot point—he publicly lives his mission and ministry.
He deepens his appreciation and understanding of the Baptism event when he cites the prophecy, an awareness and acceptance of his identity and the mission expressed in the prophecy. It is a “eureka” moment when everything in his life at that point comes together and makes sense.
In the words of Dag Hammarskjold, “I don’t know who, or what, put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer ‘Yes’ to Someone, or Something, and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.” (“Markings”)
For the Lord, his awareness and acceptance were well-defined and clear. He is the beloved Son of the Father, and his goal was to establish the Kingdom of his Father. This certainly had to further deepen, especially in terms of how he was to achieve the Father’s will and mission for him.
It is important to note that Jesus’ identity and mission were the nature and quality of his relationship with God. His identity was defined by who God is to him, a Father, or his relationship with God, as Father and Son. His mission was to be the “beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased.”
From this point on, it was a clear and singular focus to be the beloved Son. Along the way, he constantly tried to discern the how of his identity and mission. Along the way he made further pivots that made his identity and mission, and how to accomplish them, clearer and clearer.
We see this Baptism event again in the Transfiguration narrative. This time, the beatific vision was not Jesus’ alone, but included the apostles Peter, James and John. The Father declares publicly Jesus’ identity and mission. The three witness Jesus’ Transfiguration and hear the voice of the Father telling them to “listen to him.”
We see the final expression of this in the accomplishment of Jesus’ identity and mission in the Paschal Mystery, his Cross and Resurrection—the final pivot for Jesus and for the whole of humanity and the whole of creation.
Like Jesus, today’s feast is our pivot from Christmas to daily life, the transition from Christmas to ordinary time.
I offer this poem as our closing reflection:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
—“The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman
May the Father bless the year ahead with an abundance of his love and grace in the day to day, so we experience God’s extraordinary love and grace in the ordinary moments of our daily life.