Jesus was baptized to supercharge baptism

This is a translation of the Spanish homily I preached.
The Baptism of the Lord, Year A: Jan. 12, 2014
Isa 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps 29; Acts 10:34-38; Matt 3:13-17

About a month ago, we were in the season of Advent. And as we focused upon preparing ourselves to receive the Lord Jesus at his Second Coming, we turned again to John the Baptist, who prepared people to receive him in his first coming. And we saw that John was preaching repentance, and practicing a baptism of repentance.

  • He preached repentance: a change of life, a turning of oneself, away from sin and what is bad, toward God and what is good. And it is a turning in heart and mind, and in outward action.
  • And he drew people into a baptism of repentance: into themselves entering into this symbolic action that was performed by non-Jews who were converting to become Jewish. In their case, these were people born pagans who had decided to fully become part of the People of God, believing and living as the true God had asked: and when they removed all clothes, all jewelry, and immersed themselves in this water, it signified their desire to be cleansed of the past, and to die and be reborn into a new life. That made a lot of sense for converts: John the Baptist invited people who had been Jewish their whole lives to do it too, to signify their understanding of their need for repentance and their intention to do it.

And, as we heard, John also said: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt 3:11)

And then we celebrate today that day when our Lord Jesus himself showed up to be baptized. As we heard, John objected to this. “What are you doing here? You haven’t sinned: you don’t need to repent! In fact, I need to be baptized by you!” And, of course, he was right: Jesus didn’t need a baptism of repentance. But he was being baptized for other reasons.

  • First, he was baptized so that his identity could be declared to the world. As we heard, after Jesus was baptized, the voice of God the Father was heard declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God the Father was made manifest in that voice; God the Holy Spirit was made manifest like a dove; and Jesus himself was declared to the world to be God the Son, eternally begotten of the Father, now made man and living among us. Jesus came to baptism so that his identity could be declared.
  • Second, Jesus was baptized in order to transform baptism itself. He, who was perfectly clean and holy, came to cleanse the water, to purify it, to sanctify it: he came to give the water the power to cleanse us. The baptism of John the Baptist was good; but the baptism that Jesus made that day is far more powerful, for by it he baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire.
  • Third, Jesus was baptized to be anointed to begin his mission, as he began the years of his public ministry. For going into the water was not only a sign of cleansing, but also of death: as we think of drowning in water, or of going into the grave. And in going into the water our Lord Jesus signaled his willingness to go to the cross, for the salvation of the world, which is where his public ministry would take him. He began a new stage in his journey to the cross that day. And so he received a special anointing of the Holy Spirit, in his humanity, to strengthen him to carry out that mission.

If that was what Jesus’ baptism was for him, what is our baptism for us? It is a moment of following him into that water—into that water that he has changed, in order to receive the baptism that he has made for us. And so, whether we were baptized as babies or as children or youth or adults, what happened to us that day?

  • First, our baptism was also about our identity. But, whereas Jesus’ baptism was about declaring his identity, our baptism was about changing our identity. He had always been the only-begotten Son of the Father. In our baptism, we were adopted: we were changed into adopted sons and daughters of the Father. For him, his baptism was a manifestation; for us, it was a rebirth that changed who we were—so that we truly are able to say “Our Father,” in the prayer that he taught us.
  • Second, we were baptized in order to be cleansed and forgiven. Whereas Jesus was without sin and did not need forgiveness, that was not true of us! Through the waters of baptism, he washed away our sins: original sins, and any personal sins that we had committed up to that point. When we went into the waters of baptism, we went, sacramentally, with Christ into his death and grave, to rise with him to new life: we received the power of his resurrection to cleanse and transform our souls.
  • And, third, we also received an anointing of the Holy Spirit that day. We were incorporated into Christ’s mystical Body, the Church; we were given a share in his offices of prophet, priest, and king; we were given the Holy Spirit dwelling within us; we were filled with the virtues of faith, hope, and love. We were strengthened to begin our lifelong mission to live in union with Christ, becoming more and more the sons and daughters of God that he has made us, and ultimately dying and rising with him.

What a baptism he has made for us! What a gift he has given!

But have you received that gift? Most of us here present have. But, probably, there are some children and adults present who have not. I know that there are some who consider themselves Catholic, or consider their children Catholic, even though they have not received baptism. And I have to tell you: without baptism, you are not truly Catholic. You may believe as a Catholic; you may feel as a Catholic; and it is good that you do; but you are not yet truly Catholic until you have received this great gift, until you have been washed clean from your sins in baptism, until you have been reborn in baptism as a son or daughter of God. I say this not to discourage you, but to encourage you, to motivate you to seek baptism for yourself or your child. Please, contact the parish office this week to find out what preparation is needed for you or your child, whatever age you are.

And for all of us who have been baptized: Let us give thanks to God for this great gift; let us give thanks to our Lord Jesus for making this powerful baptism for us. And let us live it out each day: truly living as sons and daughters of God, leaving sin behind, growing each day in goodness and love, and living out our mission in the world. For what God the Father said of Jesus on that day, he said of us as well on the day of our baptism: “This is my beloved son; this is my beloved daughter; with whom I am well pleased!”

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