Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7/Psalm 29:1-2,3-4,9-10/Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38/Matthew 3:13-17
There are three homily notes here for our meditation and spiritual growth
Rev. Fr. Thomas Oyode
On the Significance of Christian Baptism
The baptism of the Lord is one of the events of the early life Jesus that also characterizes the Epiphany, the revelation of the Lord to all nations. Nevertheless, the question often arises regarding why Jesus should comeforward for baptism since he didn’t need repentance. It would be recalled that at he time Matthew wrote his gospel (later part of the 1st Century), the philosophico-theological controversies about the person and nature of Jesus (God made man) had not begun. Again, we may also need to ask: is today’s gospel about Jesus’ own baptism or our own baptism? It is actually about Jesus’ baptism.
However, every of the events in the life of Jesus arguably bear meanings for our own Christian life. How then is Jesus’ baptism significant for us? Let us ponder on Jesus’ reply to John. On his modest refusal to baptise the Lord, Jesus insists and tells John to have him baptised immediately (“now”) so as to “fulfill all righteousness”. Now the word “fulfill” in Matthew often has the genitive of prophecy, part of the very plan of God. Before now, Matthew had used it four times (1:22., 2:15, 17, 23) It is precisely in this same sense that we understand the use of the word “righteousness”., in the sense of conformity to God’s word, God’s will and that is that all men and women may be saved. We note here that this was also the angel’s instruction to Joseph (Matt. 1:22-23).
It can be seen, therefore, that the Lord, who is truly God and without sin has chosen to assume human nature so as to sanctify human nature and to save the entire world. It is go give meaning to the sacrament which after his resurrection, he would himself entrust to his disciples as the ordinary means of salvation for all peoples (Matt. 28:18-20). This universality of salvation is undoubtedly the will of God for humanity and it is clearly intuited in the first (Is. 42: 1-4, 6-7) and second (Acts 10: 34-38) readings if today. Also, baptism is a sacrament by which we are freed from the original bond of sin and become adopted as God’s children, coheirs with Christ whom God publicly declares to be his own very beloved in today’s gospel. Now baptism not only makes us children of God, it opens us up to a relationship within the visible family God, the Church. This is what is understood as ecclesial communion.
In addition, the sacrament of baptism establishes what magisterium of the Church refers to as fundamental equality of all God’s children (see second reading). This is precisely what Lumen Gentium, n. 32 proposes for our belief as Christians. Now the implication of this this is that baptism is significant in that we are all co-responsible in bringing God’s saving act to bear in our world. Whether as priests or religious or outside these two groups, we have eqaulity in dignity and in action to ensure that wherever we find ourselves we spread righteousness by working for the fulfillment of the will of God. Thus, today’s liturgy challenges us firmly to go all out in political assemblies, in the classroom, on Facebook, on Instagram, in the offices, in the bedroom, in our homes and families, within the church, in the streets, in traffic, wherever, bearing witnesses to Jesus who has saved us from sin and evil. May the grace of the Lord refresh our lives and help us to keep our baptismal promises. Amen
Rev. Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Benefits of Baptism
Introduction: This feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas season. On Monday we begin “Ordinary Time” the next special season is Lent which begins February 26th; followed by other special seasons. After Christmas ceremonies, the liturgy presents us with the public life of Jesus, which begins with his baptism by John and God was pleased with him. As a matter of fact, baptism begins our Christian life as well.
Baptism in that very popular definition is seen as a sacrament which cleanses us from original sins, makes s Christians, children of God and members of the Church. Therefore, without baptism we are not yet Christians, and we are not yet members of the church and God is not pleased with us. Another of saying this is that, Baptism makes us his beloved sons in whom he is well pleased. In the words of Isaiah in the First reading baptism makes us His servant, His chosen one, in whom His soul delights. Therefore, without baptism, we are not yet the Children of God and He is not pleased with us.
Again, Baptism gives us the grace necessary to live the life God wants us to live. It gives us the strength and tools necessary to be what God wants us to be. That is why baptism becomes a door to other sacraments, it is because we have been baptized that we can receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist that enables to live out our Christian calling unshakable. Baptism opens ways to Confirmation, Penance, Anointing of the sick, Matrimony and Holy order. The graces we receive through these sacraments are numberless. No one can live this life without grace; you only end up in disgrace and shame. We are what we are simply because of the graces given to us through these sacraments. We have heard of ministries and churches that closed down; if the grace is not there you will disgrace yourself. 2 Cor. 8:7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. Beloved, let us excel in the spiritual as well.
In the Baptism of the Lord three significant events happened. These events show the benefits of baptism we shall look at them closely and draw our inspirations from them. At his baptism and while he was praying Heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove; and a voice came from heaven.
1.Heaven was opened: One of the benefits of Baptism is open heaven. An open heaven is something that was prophesied in Isaiah 64:1 it’s a prayer, a prophecy with an intercessory cry, where the prophet cries out “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down”. Therefore open heaven indicates that all dualism is broken down – between God and humanity, between humanity and nature. Open heaven breaks the yoke of ancestral curses and connections. It gives us free access to everything in heavenly realm. Every good child has free access to his father’s palace. Just as baptism brings about open heaven and the rain of God blessings; without baptism we may be faced with closed heaven.
Closed heaven is another way of saying there is a barrier between heaven and earth. It is when the “prince of the power of the air” has dominion and the power to suppress us from being able to connect with God and receive from Him. Therefore let us seek baptism and have an experience of open heaven, where the chains of darkness and sins are broken, where the door of salvation is open for us, that is why baptism is the gateway to other sacraments once you receive baptism the doors to other sacrament are open to you and this is the open heavens .
2.The Holy Spirit Descended: Another benefit of Baptism is the decent of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was Baptize the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. At baptism we all receive the Holy Spirit which is later confirmed at the sacrament of confirmation. 1Cor.12:7-11 says through the Holy Spirit we receive spiritual gifts for common good. It is through these gifts of the Spirit that we are at our best. Through the Holy Spirit after our baptism, witness becomes our business, through the flame of the Holy Spirit we have no shame in spreading the Good News. In Acts 10:38, the second reading “how Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and he went about doing good…” so if you are not able to do any good the Holy Spirit is absent in your life. Rom 8:26 the Spirit helps us in our weakness and it helps us to pray. Gal.5:22-23 we carry the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Again, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. Dove in biblical parlance is a symbol of peace, a symbol of God’s presence, a symbol of messenger, a symbol of innocence these go to show that after our baptism we should become carrier of God’s presence, his messenger, and peaceful people. God the Holy Spirit is the Energizer of the word spoken by the Son. He is the Executor, the One who brings God’s plan to reality and fulfillment. The Holy Spirit is the one who can lead us to the complete truth especially in this generation where there is so much confusion, our youth are spraying their hair to become gray and our elders are dying their hair to become dark. John 16:13 the Holy Spirit will lead us to the complete truth. Lord, we sincerely admits the confusion of our days and may the Holy Spirit lead us to correction.
3.A voice came from heaven: Another benefit of Baptism is that it enables you to hear God’s voice. We live in a world of many voices and only one voice is reliable and unfailing. 1Cor. 14:10 there are many kind of voices and none of them is without meaning. Today, the economy is talking, security is talking, election is talking, politicians are talking, pastors are talking, even your children are talking, parents are talking, family problems are talking, witches and wizard are talking. Yet only one voice is reliable, dependable and unchangeable and that is the voice of God. John10:27 my sheep hear my voice and they follow me. After baptism you enjoy the benefit of the voice of God, the voice begin to direct you. Is.30:21 assure us that if we wander off the road to the left or the right, we shall hear your voice say to us “Here is the road. Follow it” Beloved in Christ, if you follow the voice of man; you shall wallow. Gen. 16:2 Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarah and committed blunder. If you don’t want to wallow always listen to the voice of God through the reading of the scriptures and the teaching office of the Church. The voice of the Lord is powerful Ps.29:3-9 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful, The voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; … The voice of the Lord hews out flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord makes the deer to calve And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everything says, “Glory!”
By the reason of that same voice may every obstacle in your life be broken! May the force against your baptismal promises be broken to pieces, may the voice of the Lord direct you to salvation. In Genesis 3:8 God voice was walking in the Garden, voice becomes a movement: you hear it and it relocates you. I pray for you, God voice shall relocate you. It shall lead you from a life of sin to a life of righteousness and it shall lead you to eternal life through Christ our Lord. Amen
REV. FR. PHILIPMARIO EKWELI.
The universal Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This great feast marks the end of Christmas season and launches us into the Ordinary season. Beloved, in celebrating Jesus’ baptism, we celebrate ours too and renew its grace within us. Jesus’ baptism and death bear witness to his identity. Life begins at baptism. Baptism is the quintessential “sign of life”. It is the most important features of life, the perfect example of life. Baptism was the substance of Jesus’ final earthly command(Mtt28:19).
Beloved, just as our natural living cannot proceed without a birth, so our supernatural life cannot proceed without our baptism. Hence children, whether natural or adopted, must share the same nature as their parents. More importantly, God’s Fatherhood is the truth at the heart of Jesus’ gospel of salvation. When we are born anew in baptism, we are born not of human parentage, but heavenly(1John3:1-2). By implication, theologian’s since ancient times have described our salvation as ” a marvelous exchange”. In Jesus, God became the Son of man so that the children of men might become children of God. Through baptism we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2Pet1:4). We are baptised into Christ, so that we can live in him(John15:1-10). We become by grace what God is by nature. That is why God became a man, and that is why he gave us baptism.
In the Old Testament, St. Paul saw baptism also as a fulfilment of the ancient Hebrew’s practice of circumcising all new born males(Col2:11-12). The circumcision of infants, then, prefigured the baptism of those who would be “newborn in Christ (John1:12). The old rite marked a child’s birth as a son of Abraham; the new rite marks the still greater birth of a child of God into the family of God. According to St. Ambrose of Milan, he says “a man who underwent circumcision endured pain in one part of the body, for a brief time. Yet baptism, he said, is ” the sacrament of the cross”. Whether an infant or an adult, the Christian who has been “baptized into Christ Jesus ” has been baptized into his death”(Rom6:3). That death means a new life for us, a “new creation” (2Cor5:17, Gl6:15). Salvation has not exempted us from suffering. We live the life of children of God when we live the life of Christ, when we live as he lived, when we suffer as he suffered(Rom8:29, 2Cor3:18). Jesus told Nicodemus, in so many words, that he would need the grace of baptism in order to understand the new birth of baptism.
Jesus’ public activity begins with his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke tells us that at the point of baptism, Jesus was about thirty years old, which means he had attained the age that conferred a right to public activity. The baptism that he enjoined is different from the usual religious ablutions. It cannot be repeated, and it is meant to be the concrete enactment of a conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever. The goal of baptism is truly to leave behind the sinful life one has led until now and stand out on the path to a new, changed life. The actual ritual of baptism is symbolic and unique.
On one hand, immersion into the waters is a symbol of death, which recalls the death symbolism of the annihilating, destructive power of the ocean flood. Immersion in the water is about purification, about liberation from the filth of the past that burdens and distorts life. It is about beginning again, and that means it is about death and resurrection, about starting life over again anew.
In our first reading, prophet Isaiah prophesied about Jesus the Great Servant of God. His mission is that of justice and love. He is the light to the nations. His mission was duly fulfilled in Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter61:1-2. In our second reading therefore, St Peter declared that God is impartial based on the experience he had with Cornelius. Jesus’ baptism was a perfect one so also ours. God confirmed his baptism with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and this was shown through the manifestation of the kingdom in his ministry. He challenge the authority of the devil over God’s own children and defeated him. Baptism confirms in us the Spirit of God. Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire. This is experience not only at baptism but also at the reception of the sacrament of confirmation.
In the Gospel of Matthew, “Jesus answered him, let it be so now for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he consented(Mtt3:14-15). The key to interpreting Jesus’ answer is how we understand the word ” righteousness “. The whole of righteousness must be fulfilled. In Jesus’ world’ righteousness is man’s answer to the Torah, acceptance of the whole of God’s will, the bearing of the ” yoke of God’s kingdom “, as one formulation had it. At baptism, Jesus’ sonship was confirmed.
The act of descending into the water of this baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. In a world marked by sin, then, this yes to the entire will of God also expresses solidarity with men, who have uncured guilt but yearn for righteousness. The significance of this event could not fully emerge until it was seen in light of the cross and resurrection. Descending into the water, the candidates for baptism confess their sin and seek to be rid of their burden of guilt.
Beloved, looking at the events in the light of the cross and resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened. Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, ” Take me and throw me into the sea”(Jonah1:12). The whole significance of Jesus’ baptism, the fact that he bears” all righteousness”, first comes to light on the cross. The baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out. “This is my beloved Son” over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the resurrection. These anticipations have now become reality.
John’s baptism with water has received its full meaning through the baptism of Jesus’ own life and death. To accept the invitation to be Baptised now means to go to the place of Jesus’ baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him. The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him. The Icon of Jesus’ baptism depicts the water as a liquid tomb having the form of a dark cavern, which is in turn the iconographic sign of Hades the underworld, or hell. “Jesus’ descent into this watery tomb, into this inferno that envelopes him from every side, is thus an anticipation of his act of descending into the underworld. When he went down into the waters, he bound the strongman” says St. Cyril of Jerusalem. John Chrysostom writes: “Going down into the water and emerging again are the images of the descent into hell and the resurrection”.
In conclusion, baptism is not merely a ceremony, not merely a rite of passage. It is our entry into a New Covenant bond, a new birth, a new Creation(2Cor5:17). The baptism of Jesus is thus presented as the moment when Jesus is sent on his mission and told what this mission is to be. “We are Christians because of a covenant” says Romano Guardini. Also St. Maximus, Bishop of Turin, remarks while addressing those who had received the holy anointing of baptism, “ponders the honour that has made you sharers in this mystery”. For St. Augustine says, let us rejoice and give thanks”. We have not only become Christians, but Christ himself, Stand in awe and rejoice. We have become Christ.
May Jesus’ baptism we celebrate today renews our baptism amen.