Sunday, January 11, 2015

Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, so let's start by placing Jesus' baptism in its context in Jesus' own life and in our own calendar. Although Jesus' baptism was many years removed from his birth, the Church wants us to celebrate it during the Christmas season, so today the Baptism of the Lord wraps up the Christmas season. This also falls shortly after last week's feast of the Epiphany. So the Epiphany commemorates primarily the wise men finding and worshiping Jesus, but an epiphany is a manifestation or a showing, so last week we also remembered Jesus' baptism, where the Father's voice came from heaven to identify this man as his beloved Son, and we also remembered the wedding at Cana, where Jesus worked his first miracle and by that began to reveal himself to the people. So the wise men, the baptism, and the wedding feast are all wrapped up in last week's feast of the Epiphany, and then we pull the baptism out for special consideration today.

So if we turn to this event for special consideration, we see so clearly how Jesus wants to identify with sinners, how he wants to identify with you and with me. Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High God, Second Person of the Trinity and God himself, existing with the Father and the Spirit before time began, chose to become man. But then he went further, because by being baptized he identified himself with sinners. Though he was going to bring a baptism of the spirit, he submitted to John's baptism of repentance. He basically said, "Their fate will be the same as mine, what happens to them happens to me." That's love. To willingly submit yourself to the trials of another, even though you don't have to, is a beautiful love indeed. The only love more beautiful is to die for another, and he did that too.

But his coming death is symbolized here. Baptism is always a symbol of death you die to sin and rise to new life. So when the sinless Son of God undergoes this ritualistic death to sin, it's clearly not his own sin he's dying to, it's our sin. He is beginning now the work that will be finished on the cross, the work of putting to death our sins. So what happens when after Jesus is baptized here? Our gospel tells us, "He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him." Don't picture a gentle parting of the clouds here. The Greek word for torn here is schizomenois or schismeno, and it means a violent or forceful ripping. From this we get the word schizophrenic, a personality split or torn into two. So here we see the heavens being ripped open forcefully, almost violently. The separation between heaven and earth has been ripped apart because the uncreated, sinless God has identified with created, sinful humanity.

This word schismeno, ripped apart, will reappear at the crucifixion and death of Jesus, when Jesus takes this identification with sinners to its logical conclusion and suffers the death of a sinner, and then we read that the veil of the temple is ripped in two, schismeno, from top to bottom. This veil separated the Holy of Holies inside the temple from the sinful world outside. Began at his baptism and finished at his death, the veil that separated us from God has been destroyed.

So at the baptism, the heavens were ripped asunder and then, peace. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove came down from heaven, and the dove always symbolizes peace and blessing. Here we have present the whole Trinity. The Son is being baptized, the Holy Spirit is coming upon him, and the Father is speaking from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." All of this together is a clear sign for Mark's reader that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will save us. Two thousand years later, the message should be no less forceful for us, but we have gift of hindsight. We've had two thousand years to reflect on these events, so we can see exactly who Jesus was and what he did to be our messiah.

What do we do with this? If Jesus was willing to be identified with sinners for our sake, then we have to make sure we identify ourselves as sinners as well. If Jesus himself has identified himself with sinners, then we have no business saying otherwise about ourselves. Because what do we like to say when we consider our own sin? We like to say, "I'm an ok person, I mean, it's not like I've killed anybody." I love that line, "it's not like I've killed anybody," as if murder is the marker of who goes to heaven, as if murder is the dividing line between a good and bad person. Jesus chose to stand in line with sinners, so we have to make sure that we see ourselves as sinners as well. We can't settle for "I"m an ok person." We have to proclaim that we are sinners, and that Jesus came to save us. Pope Francis, in one of his many interviews, when he was asked, "Who is Jorge Bergoglio?", he responded, "I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon." If the pope calls himself a sinner, then you and I really can't say otherwise.

We have to proclaim that we are sinners, this is really not an option, but then we have to do something about it. Go to Confession! We can't say "I'm an ok person, I'm probably going to go to heaven," as if this is something we want to take a chance on. You don't want to take chances with your immortal soul, the consequences are too high. But more importantly than fear, go to confession out of love. We get tired of bringing the same sins to Confession, I know, but Jesus never gets tired of forgiving us. It's almost unbelievable that God could be so good, surely he must get a little annoyed with all my stupid little sins, right? No! He doesn't, he loves meeting you in confession, no matter how big or small the sin. In confession, the heavens are ripped open so that so that God can meet you right where you're at, so go to Confession

At his baptism, Jesus identified himself as a sinner even though he didn't have to. He did this because he loves you, in order to heal you and save you. Turn to him with your sins, let him heal you and save you. The heavens have been ripped open for you. The Holy Spirit has come down for you. Let Jesus heal you and save you in the beautiful sacrament of Confession.

No comments:

Post a Comment