This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Liturgically, it is a very unusual one. It marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time. It is both, at the same time, a Christmas event being a revelation of God as the promised Messiah and Savior to come into the midst of His people in a most humble way and the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus which we celebrate in Ordinary Time where Jesus associates Himself with sinners who are willing to repent.
John baptizing in the Jordan River is the scene with crowds responding to his call to repentance to prepare for the coming of the Anointed One (the Christ) of God. They are longing for their salvation necessary due to their sins and to begin new life as adopted children of God.
When I was on a Holy Land Pilgrimage during the Jubilee Year 2000, I couldn’t wait to go to the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. I envisioned it to be a grand, majestic river, fitting for the Baptism of Jesus, our Lord and our God. Like many people, I was very disappointed that we did not go to the probable location, and the river was very dirty. I hesitated to take any water with me so that I could do baptisms with it after I returned to my parish. It would be embarrassing to have this dirty water in the Baptismal Font!
I decided to take dirty Jordan River water home with me anyway. Isn’t that the point? Jesus stepped into that mucky water to be united with us. This is where He found sinners willing to repent, in the midst of our mucky lives and souls. The Good News is that Jesus associates Himself with we sinners anyway! He came not to cleanse our outer self but our inner self through the physical sign of the ordinary water of this earth. This cleansing is necessary so that we can live the new life of God’s grace that flows like the grand, majestic river that we do envision and that St. John envisioned in the Book of Revelation.
May we all respond to God’s call of repentance out of our mucky lives of sin, not only to be washed clean but to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire!