Reflections on the Readings
January 12, 2014 - Year A
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Anointed by the Spirit
"You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." - Peter, Acts 10:36-38
A Sign of the Presence of God
There are signs of God's presence all around us. The love of family is such a sign. Lifetime friends and watching a sunset from the top of Clingmans Dome and memories of ice cream dripping from the corners of your mouth remind us that God is very near to everyone of us. Where is God? He is in all that is good, and true, and beautiful.
Throughout Holy Scriptures we see many signs and symbols that say, "God is near." The Spirit hovers over the formless earth and creates a place for God to interact with his sons and daughters. Later a Fire by night and a Cloud by day lead the children of Israel to their promised new home. On their way water from the Rock quenched their thirst and Manna from the heavens satisfied their hunger. All of these were a conduit through which God revealed himself. They spoke of a God who never leaves us nor ever forsakes us.
On this last Sunday of the Christmas Season we focus again how God is with us in the beautiful, good, and true person of his Son, Jesus. Coming to his cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus receives Baptism. Was he repenting of something? Did he have sin he needed to confess? No, not at all. Jesus enters the Jordan river to reveal to all that God is with him. John sees this before anyone when he says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Coming up from the water the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove and a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
A New Creation
Jesus in the midst of the Jordan river with the Spirit descending and the affirming voice of the Father speak of a new creation. In the beginning the Spirit descended upon the formless deep and God spoke and that was the beginning of the beginning. Now in these last days, beginning with the Baptism of John, a new creation ensues. It is the nascent moment of a future meant to be filled with the love of Him who came to make all things new.
No sign could be more potent than this which we see in the Baptism of Jesus. It is a moment of fulfillment; a holy and righteous hour when the heavens are open announcing to all who have ears to ear: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." The early Church understood that the Gospel, the good news, began with the baptism which John preached. For it was John who first announced the good news. It happened in the last sermon he preached. It was short. It was simple. It was the first and the purest expression of the Gospel. John fervently declared, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."
Baptism, a Sacrament of the Church, is the way to Jesus and the fulness of life he brings us. If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The life giving water of Holy Baptism is open to all: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. As Peter spoke to the house of Cornelius, he said, "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him." There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27)
There is not one baptism for the White Anglo-American folk and another for the African-American folk and yet another for the Hispanics. There is not a special baptism for the rich people and then another baptism for the poor. This is a concept to take to heart. For there is only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. (Ephesians 4:5)
Pope Francis recently taught on the Sacrament of Baptism. In his remarks he spoke directly to those who were Baptized as infants. He encourage them to go home and find out the date of their Baptism. The Pope said, "The danger of not knowing it is losing awareness of what the Lord has done in us, the memory of the gift we have received." We should celebrate our Baptism as a birthday; the day the Holy Spirit touched us and brought us into the great Family of God; a new creation filled with the inexhaustible life of Christ.
In the Power of the Spirit
Jesus invited to himself all who labored under great burdens of heart and soul. To these impoverished souls he offered himself as one in whom they could rest. This is the fulness of life John the Baptist referred to when he said, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
As Jesus began his ministry, many recognized in him an authority that touched them in the depth of their soul. He made no self-serving demands. And as many as received him were received with a generous and gracious welcome. The man and woman on the street heard him gladly and they told their friends and families. Never had they ever seen or heard anything like it. They whispered to one another about the Christ as those who speak of holy things in quiet ways. And while some were bewildered at the company he kept, sinners enjoyed his company at their table.
In the power of the Spirit Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And he is with us. Who he was then he still is today, for he never changes - Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today, and forever! Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com