TEXT: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, January 10, 2016
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
January 10, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
A while back I was talking to a group of children at Angelus,
and trying to explain how the Christmas Season wasn’t over
until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord,
so I asked them: “when does Christmas end?”
And one of the kids said, “it doesn’t end—it goes on all year, in our hearts!”
Not the answer I was looking for, but a pretty good one.
Today, as we come to the end of season of Christmas,
we remember that the meaning of Christmas
—that God the Son humbled himself to come into the world to save us
—continues throughout the year.
And the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord
reminds us Jesus entered completely into the world and into humanity
—even in its most terrible part—
by taking our sins on his shoulders.
John’s Baptism was not the same as the Christian sacrament of Baptism,
or what Scripture calls the “Baptism of Christ.”
John’s Baptism was a mere symbol
that the person recognized that he was a sinner
and begged God’s forgiveness.
Given that, why does Jesus need to be baptized?
We believe, St. Paul tells us elsewhere,
that Jesus was “like us in all things except sin.”
So why would he take part in this ritualistic symbol of sinners?
The thing is, St. Paul also tells us that Jesus,
“who knew no sin, became sin for us.”
So the symbolism here isn’t of Jesus saying he’s a sinner, but
of Jesus going into the waters where all those sinners
had symbolically left their sins behind,
and so entering into their sin, standing right in the middle of them,
“becoming sin for us,”
so he could destroy sin.
And how does he destroy sin?
Does he come in glory seated on a throne, floating on a cloud,
with his innumerable hosts of angels
and at the command of his all powerful will abolish it?
No—he comes as a humble baby wrapped in swaddling clothes
and laying in manger.
He comes not in glory, not in spectacle, but in humility.
Today people ask, if Jesus really is God,
why don’t we see great signs and wonders anymore?
For example, why is that when the pope’s speaks we don’t hear
Jesus’ voice rumbling from heaven:
“this is my beloved Vicar on earth, listen to him”?
But you know, even a great sign like that would never satisfy some people:
some would still complain:
why bother with the pope? why didn’t Jesus appear himself?
You can never satisfy those who would try
to make God become what they want him to be.
On the other side of things,
some seem to live for the Second Coming of Christ
to happen in their lifetime.
Their faith is centered around the day when, in fact,
Jesus will, at the sound of trumpets,
descend from heaven, coming on a cloud with all his angels,
and establish a new heavens and a new earth.
But while we should long for that day of his Second Coming in glory,
we shouldn’t do so at the expense of ignoring
that he has already come—and is still here–in humility.
The whole earthly life of Christ reveals to us that, in some way,
with God humility comes first, before glory.
We saw this in a particular way on Christmas
—as the King of heaven and earth lay shivering in the stable.
And we see it today, as God the Son receives baptism from John
–a sign of repentance from sin.
He comes to John as just one more in the crowd.
And as St. Matthew’s Gospel relates:
“John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you“…
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now.””
And when he’s done, he makes no great speech, he calls no attention to himself,
he simply and humbly walks away and begins to pray in silence.
Today Christ begins his public life as he began his private life: in humility.
And this humility continued at the heart of his mission.
As today’s 1st reading tells us, the messiah brought salvation:
“not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.” Even still, in humility and through humility
he enters human life and conquers all evil, moral and physical.
As today’s readings tell us, He:
brings “the victory of justice”
“opens the eyes of the blind,” “brings out prisoners from confinement,” “proclaimed peace” and
“healed all those oppressed by the devil.”
How does humility do all this?
The root of all sin is pride: St. Thomas Aquinas called it “Queen of all vices.”
“Pride,” not in the sense of having
a healthy sense of one’s dignity as being created in the image of God,
or a right appreciation of the gifts God has given each of us
or the accomplishments His grace has helped us attain.
But “pride” in the sense of having an inordinate or exaggerated love
of one’s own excellence
–a kind of corruption of self-love or self-respect.
Pride was at the heart of the original sin of Adam and Eve:
God told them not to eat the fruit of that one tree, but they knew better
–they liked what the serpent said about “becoming like God”.
It’s at the heart of the original sin,
and so it is at the heart of every single sin since then.
And it’s why you and I sin.
“I know what the Bible says, or what the Church says,
or what the commandment says,
but I just think….”
How many times have you heard that, or said it yourself?
Or how many times have you thought:
–“who does that guy think he is, being rude to ME?
I’m too important to be treated like that; I’ll show them.”
–or “I’m too important to worry about details, so I’ll just lie about it”
–or “My desires are too important to ignore,
so it’s okay if I use this person or that for my pleasure.”
–or “My career is too important
—why should I worry if my family is at home waiting for me?
My work is more important than
helping my daughter with her homework,
or changing the baby’s diapers,
or listening to my wife’s boring problems.”
Pride is the root of man’s sins,
and so God enters the world to conquer sin with humility.
So we read in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
“Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, …being born in the likeness of men.
he humbled himself …unto death, even death on a cross.”
From the manger, to his baptism, to his cross, Christ conquers sin with humility.
But what about the glory of Jesus?
Today’s Psalm says: “Give to the LORD glory and praise.”
The thing is, in Christ humility reveals his glory: they’re 2 sides of the same coin.
In Christ, it is because of his humility that he is glorified:
as the hymn from Philippians goes on to say:
“he humbled himself … even [unto] death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him.”
Christ comes in humility,
but it is for others to respond to him by recognizing or giving him glory.
The Babe lies shivering in a manger,
But the angels singing “Glory to God in the highest.”
Then the shepherds and kings worshipped him.
Then at his baptism
1st John the Baptist said of him:
“I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”
and then magnificently
“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.””
And most importantly, what it all was pointing to,
after the humiliation of the Cross,
comes the glory of the Resurrection and Ascension.
The humility of Christ has conquered sin
and opened the way to glory for all mankind.
Yet sin is still with us:
we still lack justice, there is still no peace,
we are still oppressed by the devil.
The thing is, Christ’s humility has won the war,
even though his opponent—in his foolish pride—refuses to concede
and continues to fight. And the battles rage with each human being
as we continue to struggle with sin, with pride.
Even as our Lord calls us to share in his victory, by simply humbly accepting it.
Today John the Baptist tells us:
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Later in the Gospel Jesus tells us:
“I came to cast fire upon the earth; would that it were already kindled!
I have a baptism to be baptized with,
and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!”
The “baptism” Jesus was talking about was the baptism of the Cross
–perhaps the “fire” he “came to cast upon the earth”
is the humility of the Cross.
Not a fire burning out of control, creating a huge spectacle
as it destroys anything in it’s path,
but a small blazing flame enkindled in the hearts of those who believe.
A fire that burns away the corruption of sinful pride,
and lights the way to live in imitation of our humble Lord Jesus.
Today as we end our celebration of Christmas
let us remember the victorious and glorious humility of Jesus as
we continue this new Year of the Lord 2016.
As he comes to us not on a glorious throne, but once again humbly
under the appearance of a simple piece of bread,
let us ask Him to send his Spirit
to enkindle within us the fire of His own humility,
so that by his grace we may claim His victory over sin as our own.
So that we, like the Babe in the manger,
the carpenter in the River Jordan,
and the Son of God on the Cross,
we may share eternally in the glory
of God the Father’s
“beloved Son, with [whom He is] well pleased.”