Mark 1:7
“One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”
First, thank you for your prayers of the last few weeks. I was under COVID quarantine through Christmas, and this past week I was on my annual retreat. What a retreat it was! I will be finding gems from those talks for years.
But let us turn to this feast day today. And it starts with the question: why was Jesus baptized? If you assume the reason John the Baptist was baptizing was for repentance – which it was, Jesus did not need to be, he had no sin.
But the reason for Jesus’ baptism was so that he could make the waters of baptism holy for all of us. Let me repeat that: Jesus’ baptism was so that he could make the waters of baptism holy for all of us.
But even this is not telling the whole story. Think of this. This is not an analogy but is a type of baptism. When a child is born physically, he is born through the water in his mother’s womb. In the same kind of way, we are born spiritually through the waters of baptism. Therefore, we call the church Holy Mother Church. She is giving birth to all of us from the moment of our baptism until we are birthed into heaven.
In Jesus, the waters of baptism are made holy so that our birth is a birth into holiness. Our birth is a birth into the family of God. Therefore St. Paul says in Romans: “and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” I will come back to that last line, but I want you to remember: every one of you is a prince or princess in the kingdom of God.
The first difference between the two births is that in the natural birth we had no choice. With the supernatural birth there is a choice. Yes, many of us were baptized as infants (I was baptized at the age of eight days), but it still requires us to accept this supernatural life. This is the primary difference between the two lives.
Our natural life flowers without us considering if it is worth it. Our supernatural life CANNOT flower unless we participate and embrace the life of grace that God gives us.
Let me repeat that.
This is why Jesus insisted on being baptized himself. He transformed the baptism of repentance that came from John into the Christian baptism of regeneration.
What does this mean for us? Here is where I will take up the second part of the quote from Romans. Let me summarize it with four simple words: no cross, no crown. “if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” In order to be a prince or princess in the kingdom of God, we have no option. We must be ready to suffer.
When you look at our society today, and the way in which Christianity is pushed to the side, it seems clear that we are headed toward a type of a cross. This may not mean the kind of hard persecution that may lead us to martyrdom. God forbid that should happen. However, that might be easier than the slow death that is happening to our Christian culture. I think this is the reason why we are losing so many people, especially in the younger generations.
Jesus talked about a baptism of fire that he was about to undergo when he started talking about his passion. His life was set on this course from the very beginning. Yet it took a dramatic turn when he was willing to be baptized. He was not only giving an example, but he was also setting the stage for all of us to follow him.
I want to read the next two lines from Romans from what I quoted above: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God…”
We as the body of Christ are called to follow where the head has led us. Jesus is the head. His baptism led him to the cross. What will your baptism lead you to? You are part of the royal family. You are a prince. You are a princess. To inherit your crown, you must embrace the cross. This is why we repeat the cycle of Christ’s salvation every year.
From his birth and baptism, to his preaching and healing, to his suffering and death, to his Resurrection and Ascension, he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords who someone as great as John the Baptist thought himself unworthy to untie the straps of his sandals. Yet by his great mercy he has claimed us as his own. He has made us all heirs with himself in his Father’s Kingdom.
We can never be worthy of this magnificent gift. But he… has made us worthy. You are a co-heir with Christ because of your baptism. On this feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we can celebrate our own baptism even if we do not know the date. We can celebrate this second birth that Holy Mother Church is leading us through.
Finally, without going into the detail of it all, with this second birth also comes our first death. It is the death of sin. Because of baptism, death has no more power over us. And as we yield to the inheritance that Jesus promised, it is not just death that has no more power but sin itself. We are called to holiness. We are called to royalty. And we have been given the grace to live in holiness because sin has died and has been buried in the waters of baptism.
If only we could live as princes and princesses of the Kingdom with all the glory that Jesus has planned for us, what a transformation that would make to this world around us. If only…
Lord Jesus, on this feast day where we commemorate your baptism, and the beginning of our transformation into princes and princesses of the Kingdom of Your Father, help us… Encourage us… Form us and conform us to you. Help us in this world that seems to be rejecting you so rapidly to not reject you, but to embrace the wonder of your grace. Help us to live in the new creation that you have made of us that we may inherit eternal life.
Help us to make this so attractive that the world will want to follow where you are leading us. Amen.