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