Homily for The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord 12 January 2020

Here’s the Scripture Readings:

Reading 1 IS 42:1-4, 6-7

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smouldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10

R/ (11b)  The Lord will bless his people with peace.
Give to the LORD, you sons of God,
give to the LORD glory and praise,
Give to the LORD the glory due his name;
adore the LORD in holy attire.
R/ The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters,
the LORD, over vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
R/ The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The God of glory thunders,
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD is enthroned above the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
R/ The Lord will bless his people with peace.

Reading 2 ACTS 10:34-38

Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.”

Alleluia  MK 9:7

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The heavens were opened, and the voice of the Father thundered:
This is my beloved Son, listen to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel   MT 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfil all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him.
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.”

We’re leaving a Season of Symbols – Evergreens representing God’s eternal, undying love will be grounded into mulch or used to stabilize sand dunes in beach communities; twinkling lights that witness to Christ as the light of the world withdrawn to attics and corner closets; candles, the burning fire of the Holy Spirit– snuffed out. Poinsettias–plants with striking red leaves branching out in star-like fashion akin to the Star of Bethlehem—perhaps lingering longer in homes and churches than the other signs, might provide us with a remnant of  Christmas Spirit to carry us through the mischief of March and the coming of Lent.  Oh, Lent!  Those perennial forty days that annually insist we repent for not keeping Jesus close, not letting Jesus guide us in all aspects of our lives, asking, “Why is your manger vacant?”

Yes, the Christmas Season concludes this weekend, but not without offering one more Christian symbol, this one perpetual and unchanging: Baptismal water. The Baptism of the Lord is the fourth and final of the “First, Initial Epiphanies” of Jesus’ manifestation to the world.  First: His birth set before lowly shepherds and innocent of animals. Second:  his presentation in the temple to people of faith—Simeon and Anna who lived, longed for rejuvenation, “new hope” in “God. The third Epiphany: Magi, models of the world’s Wisdom figures seeking eternal truths worshiping Jesus. The Magi—representatives of all discontented Gentiles drawn to Judaism’s God—THE GOD who created the cosmos not through the riotous and ravenous warfare as in most pagan world’s religion or atheism’s accusations through some cruel and indifferent power, but out of infinite, all-consuming love.  The fourth “First” is Jesus’ Baptism through which the Christ inaugurated his public ministry.   

That Jesus submitted to Baptism is but an extension of his submission to human nature.  So deeply united to humankind, Jesus identifies fully even with human sin, though He Himself was completely innocent and without sin.  Through Baptism, Jesus attested to the power sin holds over humanity while offering a way out–a remedy to sin’s oppression. And what are these “sins,” rooted in the primordial evil pulling humankind away from God?  Nothing more or less than the world’s compulsion to advance at the expense of others; arrogance and pride that denigrates the weak and the lowly; hate and prejudice leading to violence and murder, sacrificing others—often innocent others—to manifest human will against God’s will.  Jesus enters the waters to show that  in the words of the prophet Hosea, “God desires mercy, not sacrifice,”  i.e., mercy toward the guilty and innocent alike for only mercy, only compassion will establish the reign of Peace that is God’s justice, not human justice. Remember when all humanity’s sins were exposed on the Cross, Jesus offered mercy.

Through Baptism Jesus offered the fullness of God’s mercy to the nations. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, Jesus is “the Chosen One,” in complete possession of God’s spirt – a spirit that does not demean or diminish anyone.  That is the meaning of Isaiah’s words “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smouldering wick he shall not quench”  In modern parlance, Jesus would never kick a dog when its down, or prey upon the weak to make Himself powerful or give himself advantage.  Through Baptism He invites us to trust in compassion as God’s reality–THE Christian reality– and to participate in it.  It’s time we face it: most of the worlds’ history is a story of the powerful sacrificing the weak – be they children or women or people with darker skins or people who don’t fit any consensus of attractiveness or conventional wisdom.  It’s time we repent.  We must re-appropriate our Baptismal charism and start over.  This is the great challenge of the 21st century.  It’s now or never.    

And it is our Baptism that give us hope, assuring us God’s mercy is forever.  Baptism invites us to be courageous and humble.  Let God’s will, not our will, win out–not populism, nationalism, racism, ethnocentrism, antisemitism or any other “ism.”  God puts people first. God puts Mercy first. It’s time we are shocked into Baptism’s deeper reality and submit to it.  This is how the fullness of the Christmas Story will brace us to face the new year. 

Whether it’s the teacher unkind or cruel to a student, a manager demeaning his crew, a spouse impatient and unfeeling, a politician snidely dismissing one ethnic group or another, world leaders out for themselves and their constituencies with no consideration for their neighbours, businesses with no concerns for their impact on local communities, Church leaders who protect themselves against the innocent and  the poor–ONLY REPENTANCE AND SURRENDER T0 GOD’S MERCY WILL TRANSFORM MINDS, HEARTS, NEIGHBOURHOODS AND NATIONS.

Follow Jesus through the water of life again and again, a life force perpetuated for us through frequent Eucharist and, when needed, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, offer us the grace to let go of our resentments, humble ourselves to offer mutual repentance for society’s sins and invite reciprocal learning and shared responsibility.  Of course, we must hold people accountable for their sins yet not without supporting them in mending their ways, helping them accept the consequences of their actions, remedying the situations together without blame, malice or rancour. Why?  Because no wrongdoing emerges from a vacuum but rather erupts from a convergence of many personalities and many situations left un-mended, unattended to or outright ignored.  That is why we needed a Saviour and still need one.

The more we participate in mercy –putting ourselves in the place of others, walking in their shoes, patiently working towards understanding and exploring choices of genuine mutual benefit and sacrifice (for all live by God’s mercy)—the more true Christianity becomes a viable way of life for the world’s consideration.  

The Gospel insists that Jesus fulfilled this righteousness (right way to live/ God’s way to live), inaugurating it through His Baptism because only Mercy empower us to start our lives over, beyond guilt, remorse, regret, revenge to live in the present moment with hope.  Baptism and our Sacramental life provide us with the grace we need to let God’s will work through us to make a better present, a better future. Yes, the Christmas lights have dimmed, but remember Jesus has made you light for the world. Think of that each time you dip your fingers into the Holy Water fonts—for that water is the water of our Baptism, the water of fullness of life and peace and joy, the true Spirit of Christmas.

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