Baptism of Christ - GIOTTO di BondoneHomily for Mass – The Baptism of the Lord (Year C)

(Our Lady of the Assumption, Park Ridge: Sunday 8am;  St Catherine’s, Jimboomba: Sunday 5.30pm)

13 January 2013

(Readings: Is 40:1-5, 9-11;  Ps 103;  Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7;  Lk 3:15-16, 21-22)

Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a fitting bridge from the Christmas season to the Sundays of the year that we take up after today.  On Christmas Day we celebrated the Word becoming flesh in all humility – as a baby born in simple, even poor, circumstances.  At the coming of the Magi, recalled on the Feast of the Epiphany, Jesus is presented to all peoples as the saviour of the world.  And today, Jesus appears as an adult, on the threshold of his public ministry.

Just as at his birth, at his baptism he appears once again in simplicity and humility.  He comes out to John the Baptist with the crowds who had come.  Jesus is there among them.  He joins the queue for baptism just like everyone else.  “The Son of God, the One who is without sin, puts himself among sinners, [and] demonstrates God’s closeness to the process of the human being’s conversion”  (Benedict XVI, Homily, 10 January 2010).  Jesus had no need of the “baptism of repentance” that was being given by John the Baptist.  And yet he submits to it – with everyone else – as a sign that he is with us in our journey of repentance … God is not distant and aloof, but rather very close to us in the process of our conversion.

It’s interesting that good numbers of people seemed to have come out to hear John the Baptist and to receive his baptism of repentance.  These people had left their homes and their usual tasks, and Saint Luke tells us that “a feeling of expectancy had grown among the people.”  Despite the fact that John the Baptist had a severe and demanding message – a message calling people to conversion – the people were drawn to him.  They could see that there was truth and hope in his message.  What he was saying was responding to the people’s hope for a different world (cf. Benedict XVI, Homily, 10 January 2010).  They were looking for a new word, the word of salvation.

In our Second Reading today, there is a strong call to conversion.  Saint Paul says, “… what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions;  we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world …” and that we “would have no ambition except to do good.”  That seems like a tall order, and yet deep down we know that if we want to find peace, we do have to give up everything that does not lead to God.

The journey of the people, and Jesus, out to the River Jordan to hear the demanding and challenging words of John the Baptist is symbolic of our own need to step aside sometimes from our usual tasks and routines in order to hear God speaking to us.  It’s impossible to make progress in living in God’s will and aspiring “to a new world while remaining immersed in selfishness and habits linked to sin” (Benedict XVI, Homily, 10 January 2010).

We stand at the beginning of a new year.  As we come every week to worship, we will have another year of the message of salvation being proclaimed to us.  We have another year before us in which we reflect that we have become sharers in the hope of salvation through baptism.  And yet we realize, honestly, that there are parts of our lives that do in fact still need conversion.  Even though we have been baptised, and whether we have been on the Christian journey for a short or a long time, there are still parts of ourselves that have not yet been fully converted to Christ.  Even the greatest saints were keenly aware that there were still times when they didn’t fully respond to God’s love;  when selfishness or pride hindered God’s light shining through them as brilliantly as it could have.

Part of the Good News that we can take from our celebration of the Lord’s Baptism, is that God is close to us in our journey of conversion.  In fact we might even say that God is closest to us in the struggles we face to repent and be converted.

People who have had quite obvious conversions or re-versions to God often report that they felt the Lord’s call on their heart – and his presence – when they were at their weakest moments;  in moments which from outward appearances seem as moments of failure.

Jesus stands with sinners in the waters of the Jordan as they receive John’s baptism of repentance.  Jesus stands with us as we hope for a different world for ourselves;  as we wait for a word of salvation – to be freed from sin and any form of oppression, physical or spiritual.  Jesus stands close to us in the waters as we seek to be washed in the grace of forgiveness, in waters that he has made holy.

Today, let’s ask God for courage: that as we hear the word of salvation proclaimed in the coming year, we may respond to the call of conversion on our lives; that we may be inwardly transformed and become more and more like him who has appeared like us in our very flesh.