Homily: “On the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the  First Sunday after Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2018.

 

John the baptizer heard the Father Almighty. He heard our Father in heaven proclaim Jesus of Nazareth His beloved Son and John witnessed the Spirit of God Almighty descend upon Him like a dove. The imagery of this moment is rich. For John this was a quiet earthquake; a spiritual explosion; a silent but fiery illumination. All four of our evangelists record this the baptism in the River Jordan of Our loving Lord Jesus: Matthew, Mark, and John describe it directly, and John directly alludes to it, and presumes his readers know about it. This is not a Christian baptism, of course: for why would Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Himself fully God and fully Man, this Christ-Child through Whom all things were made, need Christian baptism, to be incorporated into Himself? Of course not. He chose to participate in this ritual of Jewish baptism to fulfill all righteousness: words of Our Lord recorded not by Mark but by Matthew.

For Our Lord to choose Jewish baptism to fulfill all righteousness is fitting for us to recognize and celebrate in this season of Epiphanytide—the season made of episodes of Our Lord showing forth Himself to the Wise Men, showing forth Himself as the King of all nations, the Lord God of all creation. And when we stretch our mind back from this season, through Christmastide and to Advent, we see like a cloud that stretches in the skies as far as the eyes can see how much Our Lord has been showing forth Himself. To Blessed Mary, His Mother; to Blessed Elizabeth her cousin, and to the babe John the Baptist in her womb; to the Jewish Shepherds, whose flock might bear the lambs to be offered spotless and without blemish in the Temple; to the Wise Men; and now a showing forth again, this time to John the Baptist as a mature man: he who, having studied the scriptures through deep prayer, and having undoubtedly been taught in a holy family by his mother Elizabeth and his father Zachariah; John the Baptist who knew his limitations, that he baptizes with water, but that the Christ was coming who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire—indeed, He baptizes directly into the heart to give them power to become children of God, to be born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but to be born of God: to the ears and heart and mind of this man, John the Baptist, came the words of unspeakable glory, words directly from heaven: “Thou are my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

These divine words heard by John have echoed within the Church, even back before God’s Incarnation to its earliest moments. Isaiah heard God tell him, “Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen, in Whom My soul delights.” All faithful Jewish people studied the prophet Isaiah, his verses as common to them as the Gospel is to us. Who would be this servant of God, this suffering servant with the Spirit of God to bring forth justice to the nations? To Abraham, God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, your beloved son, and go to the land of Mori?ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” In ancient Jewish tradition, this act by Abraham was also seen as a voluntary act on Isaac’s part, willingly offering himself as sacrifice. And it was on the holy mountain that Jesus went with His disciples Peter, James and John, and there He showed forth Himself in glistening white, brighter than the sun, showing forth transfigured, or metamorphosed, before them. And again, as a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” That this echoes about the Church is why we love singing “This, this is Christ the King.”

Brothers and sisters, in showing forth Himself, Jesus has opened up to us God’s dwelling place. At Jesus’s baptism, John saw the heaven opened, and Mark describes the splitting open of the sanctuary veil at the death of Jesus on the cross in the exact same way. The world has been newly created because its limits have been destroyed. Heaven and nature are singing, along with the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. The heavenly Father spoke, just as He spoke in the creation of reality. For when the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters, God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. This is the word that God says, and our souls shall be healed. Amen.