Saturday, January 10, 2009

Jesus Rises and the World with Him

(Baptism of the Lord, B)

Today, the last day of the Christmas season, we make the transition from the mysteries of the Lord’s infancy to the good news of his ministry and preaching. Jesus is baptized, and the truth of his identity and mission are voiced by the Father and confirmed by the presence of the Spirit.

The adult Jesus comes on the scene in the midst of the disciples of John the Baptist. Here is our Lord associating himself with those who looked forward to the renewal of the world, to the age to come, to a baptism not just with water, but of the Holy Spirit. But the truth is that Jesus himself will be revealed as this hope; he himself is the new and renewed creation making its appearance among us.

A funny thing happens when Jesus is baptized. Do you think the water makes Jesus holy? On the contrary! It is Jesus’ descent into the water that makes the waters of baptism holy! We may have been baptized with water from the tap in Yonkers, New York or wherever, but that water was made holy by a spiritual connection with the waters of Jesus’ own baptism. By being baptized himself, Jesus forever sanctifies all baptismal water and establishes the path to the new life of Baptism for all of us.

In the Liturgy of the Hours for today there is a beautiful sermon on the Lord’s baptism by St. Gregory Nazianzus. With perfect and simple clarity he points to the good news of this day when he says, “Jesus rises from the water; the world rises with him.” Jesus himself passes through baptism so that our baptism might be sanctified and given the power to lift us up to a new life of grace and freedom.

This gives us the victory over the world that the first letter of John speaks of in the first reading. And what is this “world” which has been defeated? It is the futile anxiety and depression of the violent, unbelieving, and hopeless culture all around us, brothers and sisters. It is the world of those who, in the words of Isaiah, spend what they have for “what fails to satisfy,” and for what is not the living bread that our hearts really want. We’ve all been there. Maybe we have indulged one or the other of our disordered appetites, or perhaps we have wasted our time with television or the internet. And afterwards we realize that what we thought we wanted wasn’t what our hearts really wanted at all. What John calls the world is the mass of those who live like this all the time, without noticing that there is anything more. And this is more than just sad; the anxious self-indulgence of the world breaks out from individuals and turns into the wars and oppression that scar all of human history.

To be free from all this futility, and to become agents of healing for the world, is the gift of our baptism. We receive the baptism that the Lord himself has made powerful and holy by his own descent into the waters of the Jordan. This is our initiation into the grace of Christ, an initiation we renew each week in the Mass we celebrate and the Communion with him that we share.

Here, as the risen body of Christ assembled as one, Jesus rises from the waters of his baptism and we rise with him. The Spirit descends upon us to renew us and free us from the world’s cycles of violence and sin. And the quiet voice of the Father speaks among us, ‘You are my beloved daughters and sons, with you I am well pleased.”

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