Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord recalls the second Epiphany (manifestation) of the Lord. The Gospel of Luke begins with the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist. He is the link between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Therefore it is appropriate that this announcement take place in the temple. He is the last and the greatest of the prophets.
We generally think of a prophet as one who predicts the future. Not so. The big concern of the prophet is about the present. How we are living now. And what is going to happen in the future because of how we are living now. John was a prophet, calling the people to change their lives, and to repent and prepare for the coming of Jesus.
As a young man he disappears into the desert to prepare himself for this mission. Then suddenly he appears out of the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People flock to him thinking that he is the Messiah. No, he says, I am not the Messiah. There is one mightier than I who is coming. I am not worthy to loosen his sandals. I baptize with water. He will baptize with the H.S. and fire. He must increase and I decrease.
John's popularity reaches its climax when Jesus comes to be baptized. John tries to prevent it. But Jesus insists. As John baptizes Jesus the heavens open and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon him and a voice from heaven says, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." It is another revelation of the Trinity: the Son who is being baptized, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father.
The next day, John sees Jesus coming and he tells the crowd, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He it is whom I said was coming after me." Now his role is finished. He has prepared the way for Jesus and pointed him out when he came. And now he will give a final witness by martyrdom. He will lose his head for Jesus.
John lost more than his head for Jesus. He lost himself. His whole personality was absorbed in his role as the precursor of Jesus. And in losing himself for Jesus, he found himself. Jesus said of him, "There has not been born of woman a greater than John the Baptist."
The life and the role of John the Baptist is most relevant for us today. We live in an achievement, success-oriented society. Everyone wants to be number one. This generates competition, pride, rugged individualism, the "rat race", hatred and war.
What wonderful peace and joy there would be in the world today if we all humbly confessed with John, "I am not the Messiah. I am not God." I am not worthy to loosen his sandals. He must increase and I decrease." How happy we would be if the really did lose our heads over Jesus. And spend our lives preparing the way for him.
Every time we go to Mass we will once again hear the words of John the Baptist. "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" When we do let us open our hearts to receive the Eucharistic Jesus, so that he may increase and we decrease. And when the Mass is ended, let us go forth in peace and joy to prepare the way for the Lord.
The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus brings to a close the Christmas Season which celebrated the Hidden Life of Jesus. Now there will be eight weeks of Ordinary Time until we begin the Easter Season which will celebrate the Active Life of Jesus.
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