The Baptism of the Lord 2015

‪The baptism of Christ as depicted in the Arian Baptistery in Ravenna, Italy. Source: Holly Hayes, 2008 (Creative Commons).‬
‪The baptism of Christ as depicted in the Arian Baptistery in Ravenna, Italy.
Source: Holly Hayes, 2008 (Creative Commons).‬

Today we celebrate the third great theophany of the Christmas season, the baptism of the Lord. Until 1955, this was not given a separate feast-day in the calendar but was celebrated on Epiphany. In the light of recent events in France and Nigeria, I think it is helpful to be able to reflect on the universal nature of Christ’s revelation and mission and its meaning for us today. We are not simply recalling an event that happened two thousand years ago. We are participating in it, and we must expect to be changed by it, whether we will or not. For the baptism of Christ to have its full effect in us, we must be silent for a while and join him at the Jordan. There has been too much shouting in recent days, as though slogans could achieve what only patience and quiet endeavour can.

In the collect we pray that we may be made sharers in his divinity who humbled himself to share in our humanity. Who would dare to pray such a prayer were it not given us by the Church? It is a reminder that we are more than a jumble of conflicting moods and emotions, thoughts and feelings. We are indeed ‘sons in the Son’, sharers in Christ’s own mission. Like him, we must be attentive to the Father; like him we must bind up the wounds of sin and division. If we are tempted by thoughts of vengeance, we must dismiss them from our minds. When Christ went down into the Jordan, he took us with him. We are a new creation and must undergo a renewal of mind and heart. As the prophet Isaiah says,

my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Christ did not fail his Father. Let us pray we may not fail him, either.

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The Baptism of the Lord

Christ baptized by Juan Carreño de Miranda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Baptism of the Lord is the last of the Christmas feasts.* In some ways, it is a strange end, but Christmas itself is strange in its refusal to allow us to linger at the crib. In a few short days we go from the birth in Bethlehem, via the coming of the Magi, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, the martyrdom of St Stephen and a nod in the direction of the hidden life at Nazareth, to this: the beginning of the public ministry with the baptism by John in the Jordan and that voice from heaven proclaiming, ‘This is my beloved. Listen to him!’

It is a reminder that life is not to be measured in length of years or in achievements, as we usually consider them, but in fidelity to vocation. The Baptism of Jesus marks the point where he definitively accepted the public phase of his mission, but there was no denial or denigration of what had gone before. The ‘hidden years’ are just as important for our salvation as the last three.

Each one of us is a vocation, called and chosen by the Lord to live in this particular place, at this particular time. Everything we do is, potentially at least, a means of attaining the holiness to which we are called. That knowledge is both a great freedom and a great responsibility As we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, let us ask his help in rededicating ourselves to his service — in the way that he chooses rather than the way we would choose for ourselves.

*The final ‘look-back’ at the Presentation is devotional rather than liturgical but provides an excuse, if excuse were needed, for Christmas pudding and other festive delicacies.

Note on the illustration A favourite of mine. Juan Carreño de Miranda (Spanish, 1614 – 1685) Christ Baptized, about 1682, Charcoal, red and white chalk, with stumping 35.2 x 20 cm (13 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Used by permission under the Open Content Programme, with thanks

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Baptism of the Lord 2012

I’ve written about this feast, its history and theology, many times, most recently here. Perhaps today a single thought will suffice. The Baptism of the Lord marks the beginning of his public ministry. It represents something new in his life, and in the life of the world, yet it was, at the time, an obscure act in an obscure corner of the Roman empire. The baptism of an unknown Galilean by an eccentric preacher out in the Judean wilderness was hardly likely to cause any ripples in Rome.

Life is full of new beginnings. Some of them seem significant, at least to ourselves; others are unremarkable; yet if we are open to the grace of God, even our most obscure actions become capable of uniting us with Christ and his mission. As many of the Fathers loved to recall, when Christ went down into the waters of the Jordan, he took us with him. We must also rise with him to become beloved children in whom the Father is well-pleased.

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Baptism of the Lord 2011

The Baptism of the Lord
The Baptism of the Lord

Liturgically, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of Christmastide and the beginning of Ordinary Time, just as it marks the end of the hidden years at Nazareth and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It is the third of the great theophanies that characterize this season. We have already celebrated the revelation to the Jews at Christmas and to the gentiles at Epiphany; now, for the first time, we have a revelation of the mystery of the Trinity.

The Fathers loved to comment on this Baptism which foreshadows our own. They delighted in the idea of Christ’s body going into the Jordan and making all the waters of the earth holy; they became lyrical when they thought of the descent of the Holy Spirit or the voice of the Father affirming that this was indeed his Beloved. It therefore comes as a surprise to many to learn that this feast is of comparatively recent institution in the Church (1955). It always used to be one of the events celebrated at Epiphany, as the liturgy of that day still makes clear. Why do we need a separate feast, and what does it mean today?

For myself the answer is to be found in the collect for the day, where we dare to pray that as Christ shared with us his humanity, so we may come to share in his divinity. It is a breathtaking prayer and reminds us that we are more than just a jumble of genes. Whatever sins we commit, however much we fail both as individuals and as a Church, whatever enormities society as a whole permits, there is hope: hope of redemptiom, hope of transformation. The Baptism of the Lord is not an event in the distant past; it is reality for us here and now in 2011 and reminds us that ultimately life and goodness triumph over death and evil.

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