Christmas V – Baptism of the Lord
2016 – Cycle C
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 104; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 35-16; 21-22
“In baptism, Elizabeth died with Christ and rose with Christ to new life.
May she now share with Christ eternal glory.”
[The Order of Christian Funerals]
With these words the Funeral Mass begins as the body is received into the church and blessed while surrounded by family and parish. This declaration also offers us the best and most concise meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism: We die! And we rise to new life with and in Christ! Death and Resurrection! Calvary and empty tomb! Slavery and freedom! Darkness and light! Through Baptism we are plunged into the central and defining event in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. So important is this event that the Gospels record Jesus’ whole life in the light of his death and resurrection. His birth is marked by threats to his life that foreshadow later attempts to destroy him which are accomplished in his betrayal, arrest, passion, and crucifixion. The stories of his healings and miracles reveal the new life offered to humanity releasing us from our diseases and sins; from our acts of prejudice and self-righteous blindness; from exclusion and class distinction; from our hunger and thirst for God which reach a height in his resurrection.
Like the Jewish People who, in celebrating the Passover Seder, believe that every generation must experience, and does experience through that sacred meal, the central event of their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt and freedom through the Red Sea; so Christians believe that we must experience our central event: the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Baptism is essential because it is the initial encounter with Jesus Christ. Baptism immerses us into life with Jesus which means Baptism is an ongoing event throughout our lives of dying and rising. That is why…
- we thoughtfully and publicly renew our Baptismal Promises every year on Easter Sunday;
- why we are encouraged to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, (Confession) which the early Church Fathers called, “a second baptism” to be freed from our slavery to sin;
- why we come to the holy table to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion as a further renewal and deepening of our relationship with Jesus Christ. The Holy Eucharist is the presence, every Sunday, of the death and resurrection that we entered through Baptism.
What does it mean that Baptism is an ongoing event?
Consider today’s readings.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that…her guilt is taken away…” The sacred text reveals that the people have experience punishment for their sins and now God has forgiven them and offers them comfort and consolation. This message is always true in every age. God is offering that to you and me today! But it is important for us to remember, because we are sharers with Jesus through our baptism, we are not just to receive what he offers but are also to be agents of telling others of what God has done for us. Thus this news of comfort is followed up with: “Go up unto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news!” In other words the forgiveness and comfort that you and I have experienced we are compelled to tell others of and share with them the experience: forgive as you have been forgiven [See Ephesian 4:32; Colossians 3:13; Matthew 6:14].
As Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church and we will hear on Ash Wednesday: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” [2 Corinthians 5:20] I would state that stronger than Paul, not “as if God were appealing through us” but “We are ambassadors for Christ because God is appealing through us” to tell other people of salvation.
The salvation which Paul speaks about in writing to Titus is not just one more item on the Christian agenda. Salvation is the agenda! And we are not to just be concerned about our personal salvation, that would be selfish, but our concern is to be about the salvation of humanity; by being agents and ambassadors. This is the agenda Jesus Christ came to carry out by becoming human and living among us. This is the mystery we celebrate in Christmas. This agenda of salvation is what impels us as Catholic Christians to avoid sin and live a virtuous life.
As John’s baptism marked the beginning of the public life of Jesus; our baptism in Christ marks a public life for us as Christians. There is no such thing as a solitary, silent, private or inactive Christian. Through Baptism we are made part of Christ with all other Christians, it is communal, that is why we regularly gather. We are called to speak up as prophets in the face of injustice; silence is not an option. We are called to publicly acknowledge Jesus and what he lived and died for; Christianity is not private. We are called to participate in the life of the Church and world; we must be active like yeast mixed in with the dough to participate in the Reign of God as the reality.
This agenda of salvation is what impels us to reach out to other people to share our faith and hope. And, if more and more people in our culture, the nones, are declaring no connection with the religious values of a faith tradition then as Jesus has said: “The harvest is abundant…” Jesus is correct that the harvest is abundant but mistakenly goes on to say, “but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” [See Luke 10:2; Matthew 9:37] The harvest master has provided laborers. The laborers are you and me! Regretfully we have used this passage in relation to the vocation of Holy Orders where the laborers have always been few. The reality is, we should speak about laborers in relation to Baptism; for the laborers, you and me baptized into Christ, are abundant!
In defining the Church at the Second Vatican Council, the bishops clearly state: “Everything which has been said concerning the People of God applies equally to the laity, religious and clergy” [Lumen gentium #30]. Note the order: laity, religious and clergy. The pyramid has been turn upside down. The social order and hierarchy in the church of ordained clergy, vowed religious and people is dealt a blow by the Council. We are all equal through Baptism. We all have responsibility for the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel. The Council takes pains to dispel the common misconception that the laity are subject to and dependent upon their pastors. The Council teaches that there is a mutual relationship of support and dependence between laity and clergy. Clergy and laity are not in competition but complement each other for the sake of the agenda; the agenda of salvation. Baptism is not about us. Baptism is about the salvation of the world.
“In baptism, you and I died with Christ and rose with Christ to new life.”
What does that mean for you?
[Passages and ideas were taken from the writings of Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, former Archbishop of Cincinnati]