Christmas. Epiphany. Baptism of the Lord. There can be a temptation to focus only on our own baptisms on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. While not trying to minimize the great day that was our own baptism, today is really another day that is about knowing who Jesus is. It is a Christological day today, as we learn again about the identity of Jesus.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the Baptism of the Lord is considered part of the Christmas season. We hear today, just as the angels announced at Christmas, and the magi proclaimed for the Epiphany, that Jesus is Lord. Today we do not know if anyone other than Jesus heard this, but we do know that the evangelist recorded it for us. And as such, we are privy to the words of the Spirit.
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Son of God. Jesus is identified clearly for who He is. Not only is Jesus human, once again we are reminded that God has become human, that the Incarnation is true and real. But perhaps most important to us is exactly what we learn about Jesus that is not mentioned here.
But let us begin by what we do get today. The first reading from Isaiah certainly reinforces the Messianic overtones. This passage from Isaiah, together with those in chapters 49, 50 and 52 are known as “servant” passages, which the early Church equated with the Christ. These passages help us to understand what it will mean to be the Messiah. It will help us to see what we should expect from the Messiah. It is hear the identity of Jesus is foreshadowed. And in the gospel it is made clear.
When we think of the reading choices today, what we see is the type of relationships the Messiah desires. We do not hear of a vengeful God, but rather one who is that gentle one who works for justice, who invites the thirsty to quench their thirst, who asks all to recognize that what he offers is far more than can be found anywhere else. It is a servant who teaches us about a loving God whose love is far more than we can imagine.
But it is also about what we do not hear about today, namely that immediately after today’s gospel, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert. Think about this for a moment. Jesus is led, not of his own accord, but by the Spirit into the desert. I am reminded here that it was Mary who pondered these things in her heart. In other words, to comprehend the actions of the Spirit, it is necessary to reflect in the desert. Jesus is driven by the Spirit, and in the action of the Spirit we too learn what it is we must do.
Whenever God acts in his life in miraculous ways, it is Jesus who retreats to that quiet place. He did not forget today’s lesson given by the Spirit. And neither should we. Just as Jesus is led, driven, into this deep relationship with the Spirit, so too are we. We must allow ourselves to be led, to be driven, to that silent place where we not only encounter God, but we are able to affirm what we experience.
What is it that we are called to affirm? First, we are called to be thankful. We are called to develop that eucharistic spirit that is indeed the call to thanksgiving for all that God has done. Second, we are reminded that silence is indeed where our faith is strengthened, for it is in silence that the distractions are removed so that we can focus more clearly on God in our lives. Thirdly, when we are open to the silent reflection where the Spirit leads us, we are able to see not only those times when we cooperated with the grace of God, but also those times when we too must repent for the sins we have committed, so that our relationship with God leads us to become more fully the person we have been created to be.
In a way, we are called, by the baptism we have received, to recognize our own relationship with the Christ. We are called to join ourselves to a community of people who seek Jesus, and believe in him so that they can follow him. It is the grace of God that is made real through others that our Church, our parishes, our local church, calls us to experience. Every time someone is baptized, we hear again the affirmation of the Spirit given to Jesus, that we too are in a profound relationship with God that leads us more fully to the person we were created to be because of the love of God.