Today is the official conclusion of the Christmas season. For many, it may be a rather sad time. Gone are the brilliant lights that added warmth and lightheartedness to our lives, gone the pleasant aromas of holly and pine, gone the greetings of love, peace and joy. It is time to go back to ordinary life. But we don’t go back the same as we were before. We now have new gifts to enjoy, new clothes to wear. We may have made New Year resolutions that call for change. While in some ways today may be an end, it is also a beginning.
Today is the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus. The Gospel account describes extraordinary occurrences. The heavens open and the Spirit of God descends like a dove; a voice from heaven identifies Jesus as “beloved Son.” The Trinitarian nature of this experience is clear. But what does it mean?
Most commentators agree that this episode inaugurates the public ministry of Jesus. John’s baptism was a devotional ritual that symbolized repentance and willingness to reform. John realized that Jesus had no need for this kind of baptism, and initially he objected. But Jesus insisted that it was important “to fulfill all righteousness.” John was the one who prepared the way (see Mal 3:1). Jesus made this connection with John; then, under the power of the Spirit, he would move into his own ministry.
The words attributed to God call to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah found in today’s first reading. They not only identify Jesus as the chosen servant of God; they also lay bear the character of his ministry. He will bring justice, but he will accomplish this with gentleness rather than through the strength of arms. He will be particularly sensitive to the weak and vulnerable, and his example will be “a light for the nations” to follow.
The feast of the Baptism of Jesus is an apt time for us to consider our own baptism, the time when we too became beloved children of God. In the reading from Acts, Peter refers to Jesus’ baptism as the beginning of a ministry that continues through the work of Peter himself. Even Gentiles like Cornelius or you or me are welcome. For “God shows no partiality.”
Baptism is the most precious gift we have received. As with our Christmas gifts, it is now time for us to make use of its treasures. We have been clothed in the Spirit. It is now time for us to put on these new clothes and live new lives in that Spirit.