Each Christmas season wraps up (pun intended) with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. The three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) each record this pivotal theophany, in which Jesus was revealed as the Christ in His baptism in the waters of the Jordan River. This theophany is rivaled only by Our Lord’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Both events far outshine any of the interactions between the Almighty and man recorded in the Old Testament.
It was only God and Abraham present, Creator and creature, when God entered into a covenant with the patriarch — no crowd to witness and partake. Moses went up Mount Sinai all by himself to receive the Law from the Almighty. And Elijah, during his 40 days in the desert, also spoke to God in solitude.
But when God spoke to those assembled on the banks of the Jordan at the time of Our Lord’s baptism, it was a unique and stupendous moment in the history of humanity.
Push from your mind the idea that Jesus’ baptism was anything like the baptism of any other human being. It was His baptism that gave us the sacrament of baptism. Our baptisms are about the ablution of all sin, original and personal, through the waters of the sacrament. Our Lord’s, on the other hand, was about God Himself proclaiming to the world that Jesus is His Son.
An event like this had never happened before and would never be duplicated. Take a look at the magnificent passages below (note how similar they are, despite superficial differences):
“After Jesus was baptized, He came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16–17).
“On coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased'” (Mark 1:10–11).
“After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from Heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased'” (Luke 3:21–22).
What we need to take to heart from Our Lord’s baptism — and from God Himself putting His stamp of approval upon Jesus — is that God has a Son in Christ and that He alone is the Messiah. He alone is Lord, and He alone (united with the Father and the Holy Spirit) should be worshipped and adored.
Moreover, what Jesus taught and preached as He went about His active ministry should be followed strictly. No other man is God’s Son, and although other men may be wise, no other man is God present with us. Other men’s words of wisdom can be assessed and taken into account. But Christ’s words are God’s Words and should be adhered to — not selectively followed!
Jesus began His active ministry immediately after His baptism. The core of His ministry was the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom by calling on those He encountered in His travels to repent from all sin and convert (Mark 1:15). For us, as disciples, ongoing repentance and conversion are foundational to our spiritual growth and development — the process by which we reject all evil and, by doing so, make room for God in our hearts.
As my spiritual director explained to me many years ago, the sacrament of reconciliation is like a repeatable sacrament of baptism — God’s repeatable gift to the Church of His reconciliation and forgiveness. So, as the Church enters ordinary time, take to heart that Christ is the reconciliation between God and man. No sin is unforgivable except those that the sinner does not want God to forgive him for.
Rejoice in the Lord! God is with us. God was present in Christ’s baptism in the Jordan. God Himself proclaims Christ as His beloved Son, with Whom He is pleased. Should not we be as pleased with Christ as God is?