Homily – Baptism of Jesus

My friends, this week’s Scriptures find us far removed “from the crib” where I have invited you to stay during the 12 Days of Christmas.  Jesus is now fully grown with a grown-up job to do. 

   Because we did not meet on the Sunday after Christmas, Holy Family Sunday, you may have missed the Scriptures telling of the boy Jesus being “left behind” in the temple when the caravan with his family returned home.  That Scripture piece let us know that once Jesus was again, “found,” he returned willingly with his parents and “grew” in wisdom and grace.”

   The Jesus we see today in Luke’s gospel is the product of that growth, “in wisdom and grace.”  I think like everything else we read in the Scriptures, we need to try and put ourselves into the words, into the situations expressed, to better know, their full import.

    I think the danger for us in attempting to be fully engaged when we read these stories over and over, year after year, is to simply take them, at face value and in this instance, “Oh yes, Jesus was baptized by John,” and think no more about it. 

   But this Jesus, from the backwater town of Nazareth, as he did, in fact, “grow in wisdom and grace,” coming to know what God wanted of him, in this world of humans, had to have struggled with his dual identity—that of God and that of a human.  I think we make light of, as in, “not of much importance,” Jesus’ incarnation in our world, if we simply think it all happened, rather, matter-a-factly.  This week, it might be good for us, “to sit with” this reality—because then Jesus’ life among us becomes, so much more real.   Jesus’ baptism that we read about today, really marks the beginning of his ministry—as an adult, and he is making an adult decision – “showing the way” for us to go. 

   If we look to our own situations here, for the most part, our parents chose baptism for us during a time in our church when it was thought that without this ritual, we wouldn’t earn heaven upon our deaths.  For those of us in that situation, at our confirmations, after the age of reason, we had our own opportunity to say, “Yes” to following our brother Jesus in a more personal way. 

   For Jesus too, being baptized was what was expected of him, if he were to lead his people—to step in and complete the work that John the Baptist began—to in fact, become the Messiah that his people awaited. 

   But for just a moment or two, let us “look” into the heart and mind of our human brother, Jesus, at this pivotal moment in his life. Perhaps Jesus’ baptism was for him a confirmation of what he was sent to do, and his purely human nature needed to hear the words that God made audible—Scripture tells us.  [This is] “my beloved, my Own—on you my favor rests.”  Other translations are even more familiar— “in [you], I am well-pleased!” 

   This need within Jesus, we might say, was the same need his mother, Mary had in traveling to be with her aunt, Elizabeth; to receive that confirmation that what she thought had happened—truly had!  We recall Elizabeth’s words, “Who am I that the mother of my God should visit me?” I believe that when we immerse ourselves in these Scriptures, we can get a much clearer appreciation of the love our God has for us in going to this extreme to make that affection for us, known. 

   So friends, once we can see that Jesus is not only divine, but human too, his journey, becoming, “the light” that each of us needs to see and follow in our world today, becomes so much easier.  That he was human too makes a difference when we ask him for help in our own human lives.  It seems we need to remember, once again, that we were created to be generous, and not selfish, as we live our lives, something our country seems to be struggling with mightily, at present.

   Jesus lived his very short life always attempting to be his best within the constraints of his humanity, coupled with his divine nature, that each of us shares in, always showing us, “the way.”  The prophet Isaiah, in today’s first reading, foretold who this Jesus—the Messiah would be:

  • He would not break the bruised reed, or quench a wavering flame
  • He would open the eyes of the blind (and we know that we can be blind in more than physical ways)
  • He would free captives from prison (the prison that our minds can many times be)
  • He would free too, those living in darkness (of their bodies, minds, and hearts)
  • He would be one that would serve the cause of “right,” bringing true justice for all

   Isaiah’s words today, of what it is to be a servant are a wonderful definition and call to each of us as baptized Christians to move among God’s people doing what we can, what we must, to make sure that Jesus’ justice—God’s justice, is there for all. Bringing justice is what Isaiah’s servant does—nothing less. Today, let us recall our own baptisms and in our confirmations, that which we personally promised to do.

   Luke, who is also given credit for the Acts of the Apostles attests to the fact that the God of Jesus, “shows no partiality,” that those who revere God and do what is right, “are acceptable.”  Just as our brother, Jesus, immersed himself in our humanity, our imperfect state, to show us how to be perfect; we must follow his lead.   And then, as the psalmist says today, “Our God will bless [us] with peace,” –a peace that comes from doing what is right, not just for ourselves, but for others. 

   In conclusion friends, as we prepare in this New Year, 2022 to pick up the challenge once again of following in Jesus’ footsteps, I will leave you with the words of another, brother, in the faith, my friend, Fr. Paul Nelson, who said well, “We are called to dignity, to rise above excuses in life, to engage our best selves.” Amen? Amen!