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Responding to God’s love

January 13, 2013

Baptism of Our Lord
Reflection for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord: Luke 3:15-16; 21-22
The readings for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord are Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7, or Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Acts 10:34-38, or Timothy 2:11-14; 3:4-7; and Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Christmas is over; the shepherds have taken their sheep to other pastures; the wise men have packed their camels and gone back to their homes; our lights have come down and the trees have been taken to the curb… well, most trees. Our tree is still up because according to the Church liturgical calendar, the Christmas season ends today, with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I’ve always found that a bit confusing because you’d think that the Christmas season is when we get to listen to all the stories about when Jesus was a child – but Jesus was baptised as an adult! Why is that part of the Christmas season? And the Presentation at the Temple, which happened when Jesus was very much a baby – 8 days old – does not happen for another three weeks, on February 2nd. Why is that not part of the Christmas season?

The reason is that the early Church didn’t celebrate Christmas. They celebrated The Feast of the Epiphany, which included 3 “manifestation” events. That’s what “epiphany” means: “manifestation.” It literally means “to pull back the curtain,” to reveal. And these three events are moments when God manifests himself or reveals something about himself.

  • The first manifestation is the Nativity: God reveals himself as a human being, as the Incarnation;
  • The second manifestation happens at the baptism of our Lord, when God reveals the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity – because the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit came down and the Father’s voice was heard, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased:” Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • The last manifestation event, believe it or not, happens at the Wedding at Cana – because that is also a manifestation of the divinity of Jesus – when he performs his first miracle. We’ll hear that Gospel reading next week. Be sure to go to Mass and learn all about it.

But the manifestation that we celebrate today is huge. The heavens are opened and we hear God’s voice. That doesn’t happen very often. It doesn’t happen at the birth of Jesus – Angels are flying around and singing, but we don’t hear God’s voice. We don’t hear God’s voice when Jesus is on the cross. It also doesn’t happen at his resurrection. It happens at his baptism. And we could spend all day talking about all the good reasons why Jesus had to be baptised, but I think that one of the more important reasons was so that from then on, at every Baptism, the heavens would be opened, the Holy Spirit would descend and the Father’s voice would be heard. That’s what happens at Baptism – I would say that it happens with every Sacrament because the Sacraments are a meeting of heaven and earth, of the human and the divine – but more so at Baptism: the heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends and the Father’s voice is heard. When all of us were baptised, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit came down – maybe not quite like a dove – but he came down and God said, “this is my beloved son, my beloved daughter; you are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.

Most of us know and are OK with the fact that God loves us, but to know that you are God’s beloved, that’s a bit harder to comprehend. You are God’s beloved. Who is your beloved. Maybe one person in your life? But there are 6 billion people in the world and you are God’s beloved. If you think about the person in your life who loves you the most; who will always love you, no matter what – well, God loves you a million times more. We can’t even begin to imagine how much God loves us. St. Paul tells the Romans that that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8: 38-39).  God loves you. God loves everyone; no matter who you are, or what you’ve done. If you just cheated on your taxes or you just cheated on your wife, or you just honked at a little old lady who was taking too long to cross the street. God loves you. You don’t even have to do anything. When Jesus was baptised, he hadn’t done anything yet, still God said, “you are my beloved.” God loves you just because you are who you are.

But sometimes, I think that we get too comfortable with that. We think, “God loves me, no matter what, so I can do anything I want and it doesn’t matter.” That’s a very dangerous attitude. Because there is something that can separate us from God’s love, and that is ourselves; our will. It’s not OK to just be loved by God. We have to respond to that love.

It’s no coincidence that John the Baptist spent his whole life preaching repentance. That’s what his baptism was all about. People would come to him and repent of their sins. Repentance means “turning away” – they would turn away from their sins and then they would plunge into the water – that’s what baptism means: “to plunge” or “to immerse” – they would plunge into the water to symbolise how they were dying to their old life and come up from the water to symbolise their new life, washed clean by the water – they would begin a new life. Baptism means a new life.

Jesus didn’t have to get baptised because he didn’t have to turn away from sin. But in a sense, his baptism was a new beginning. St. Peter says in the Acts of the Apostles that the preaching of the message began after the baptism of John. When Jesus was baptised, he was anointed by the Holy Spirit and that’s when he started preaching and healing those who were oppressed (Acts 10:37-38). That was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In today’s second reading from the letter to Titus, St. Paul says that there’s nothing we can do to gain salvation – that’s true – we are saved because God is merciful and loves us – but because of Baptism, we are now heirs (Titus 3:4-7). That means that we will receive an inheritance. That requires a certain behaviour.

 Baptism has to lead us to a new life. We don’t just get baptised and forget about it. Many people just baptise their kids and leave it at that. Just check it off the list. No. One of the promises we parents make at baptism is that we will teach the faith to our children. Do we do that? Baptism requires a change in life. And those of you preparing for Confirmation: You will receive the fullness of the Baptismal Graces and the Holy Spirit in a special way at Confirmation – that’s the beginning of a new life. If you want to be confirmed, it means you want to be a Catholic. It will require that you live a certain way. It’s not enough to be loved by God. We have to respond to God’s love.

I’d like to offer three suggestions. This year Pope Benedict has proposed that we observe a Year of Faith and we can do that in three ways: We can learn about our faith. We can live our faith and we can share our faith:

  1. Learn about our Faith: Don’t just be satisfied with what you learned in elementary school ‘cause you went to a Catholic school. You didn’t learn anything in school. Our faith is so rich and there is so much depth to what the Church teaches. And don’t just say, “Oh, I don’t understand that or that doesn’t make sense.” When you come across something that is hard to understand, go and find out more – research, read. There are so many resources out there – so much you can find online. Make a commitment to learn something new about our faith every week. If you want some resources send me a message. I’d be happy to hook you up.
  2. Live our Faith: This is mainly what I wrote earlier about John’s baptism. Following Christ and being part of His Body, the Church means that we have to live a certain way. If there is something in your life that you have to clean up – then do it – repent and go celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and then, move on – make a change. Begin a new life. Live your Faith.
  3. Share our Faith: This is not reserved for the Priest and the Deacon who stand up in Church and preach. By virtue of our Baptism, we are all called to proclaim our Faith. And it doesn’t mean you have to stand on the street corner and preach (although if you’re going to do that, let me know and I’ll go and support you). But, share your faith. Share it by how you live, yes “they will know we are Christians by our love” – but how else can you share something about your faith? Maybe add a scripture reference to your email signature or what are you posting on Facebook – instead of just posting whatever about Lindsay Lohan yelling at her co-star or Britney Spears calling off her engagement; Post something uplifting. Share a quote from one of our Church Doctors or from scripture. Share that one new thing that you learned this week. How are you sharing your faith?

Let’s follow Jesus’ example when He was baptised. He prayed. He received the Spirit. He said yes to being God’s beloved son. And he began a new life of ministry and service. Let’s not just say yes to being God’s beloved children. Let’s respond to that love, so that God can also say to us, “in you I am well pleased.”

Happy Feast of the Baptism of our Lord!
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From → English, Reflections

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