Baptism of Jesus / Feast of the Holy Child
January 11, 2015
The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes
Just a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus in the manger. A week after that, he underwent the Jewish cleansing ritual of circumcision. The next time we heard, he was 12 years old reading the book of the prophet Isaiah in the Synagogue. And now he is in the river Jordan being baptized by John the Baptist in another cleansing ritual marking his ministry to the world.
One might ask, what in the world is Jesus doing in the river Jordan being baptized by John the Baptist? Isn’t baptism a cleansing ritual for repentant sinners? Jesus is a blameless person and without sin. Why does he need to go through the process of baptism? John the baptist said, “I baptize you with water but he whose sandal I am not worthy to untie, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
What then is Jesus doing in the river Jordan being baptized by John the Baptist?
Some of us may join that protest worried about what people might think if Jesus submits to a baptism of repentance. Why on earth would Jesus go out into the wilderness to be baptized with this ritual cleansing of repentance? After all, if Jesus is who we say he is, the Son of God who was “in every way as we are, except without sin,”
There are complex theological responses to these questions. We may well remember that each Gospel writer has his own way of sketching the life and works of Jesus. This particular passage in the Gospel of Mark sets the continuation of the writer’s attempt to parallel the differences of John the Baptist and Jesus. At the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, the writer presented to us an Old Testament passage of Isaiah crying in the wilderness to make straight the path of the Lord. Mark presented to us John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ. He was not the messiah but someone mightier than him is coming. John baptizes with water but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Today’s Gospel is a clear fulfillment of that voice in the wilderness. Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God.
We may also find understanding of this event when in the words of St. Paul, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). To put it in another way: In everything that Jesus says and does, God is at work, showing us how closely and intimately God relates to human beings who do sin, and who do need to repent and turn again. Jesus stands in the Jordan River, just as he lay in the stable as a baby, just as he will hang on the cross of his death, because God is in Christ, identifying himself with us in every aspect of our births, lives and deaths, and in solidarity with us.
On one baptismal occasion where the place of baptism was at a flowing river, a candidate was hesitant in being submerged into the water, he said, “No, No, I don’t want to be in the river.” The people thought that the candidate was possessed by evil spirits. Nevertheless, the minister asked, “Could you tell me why you don’t want to be baptized in the river?” The candidate answered, “There are leeches in the water.” “May mga linta sa tubig.”
Jesus did not hesitate to join the crowd of repentant sinners at the River Jordan who are repenting and returning to right relationship with God in the framework of covenant and law. No, Jesus does not need to repent. But, by showing his baptism by John, the Gospel-makers show Jesus doing what God in Christ always does” Stands by us, Stands with us, stands for us in our great need for repentance. Jesus would spend his earthly life in the midst of sinners, eating with them, drinking with them, talking with them, healing them, calling them. Why should his baptism be any different? Jesus went under the waters of the Jordan as the others had, under the waters his ancestors crossed after 40 years of wilderness wandering. Historic waters, yet they looked quite ordinary.
That is the Good news of our salvation, and this is why the view of Jesus’ baptism includes a “Manifestation of God, Epiphany.” It is as though God is, indeed, so excited and joyful about Jesus’ first public act of solidarity with sinners; that God rips through the very fabric of creation with the authoritative word of God’s voice: “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Perhaps this teaches us something significant on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the baptism of the perfect servant in whom the Father is well pleased, and a baptism in which we all share.
Baptism is about sharing, sharing the love, the joy and the light that we receive from God. Sharing the grace we enjoy to those who are deprived of having them; the poor, the unemployed, the homeless and the uninsured. We are bound to share the blessings of our Health and Wellness Ministry to the rest of the community. Such is the outward visible sign of the inward grace that we receive from God. Baptism is about sharing the stories of those who are lost and bringing them to light. Baptism is about sharing what we have long been hoarding, the love and compassion to others.
The beauty of this feast, which shows us that the Son of God was humble enough to be baptized by a human, compels us to consider the power of God’s love in us when we are willing to let go of being the center of attention, and the ones who try to make everything happen our way. This is not an easy way of life. But it is the Christian way of life. We need to be willing to immerse ourselves in what God wants for us. We are immersed in God’s life and in the Church. Jesus teaches us by his example to let go of those things which keep us from being the instruments of holiness and love that God wants us to be. Jesus teaches us to be humble enough to let go of all that clutters our life and our vision, and the we just might be able to pay enough attention to hear our heavenly Father tell us that indeed, he is “well pleased.”
I believe, just as each of you who are drawn here out of nowhere, believe that you were brought here for a reason and that God introduced you to us or us to you, just as He introduced His Son Jesus to those in the river Jordan, that in each one of us, He is well pleased to bring us here.
I must confess to you my deep belief and faith that the Holy Child Jesus invited us all to come here and see, feel every miracle of love that surround us. Every year as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Child, I see miracles. I remember too well when 10 years ago, just 2 days before Easter. It was 12 midnight of Good Friday, I got a call from our Church neighbor Nolet Mata reporting the Church is on fire. The Vicar then was Fr. Bayani Rico who resides in Vallejo. I learned that our next door neighbor called 911 because he saw the fire coming from the Vicar’s Office. At around 1 A.M. When the fire was extinguished, the Fire Battalion Chief took me in to the Church through the main door. All the glass windows from front to the back were dark and smoke filled. The Drape of the cross was all burned down. But I noticed something, the statue of the Holy Child was never touched, melted nor smoked filled. It was standing next to the Piano here where part of the Piano was burned. The Santo Nino stood. That is the miracle that only God can tell.
Yesterday, I spent 1 hour with PG&E pleading that they will send crew to restore power for our feast day today. We have not had power since Tuesday due to the tree cutting activities in our premise. The supervisor on the phone said they did everything but they can only be available next week. I told our Junior Warden Bernard Dayrit to prepare the generator for tomorrow’s use. I knelt before the Santo Nino saying, “May it be done to your will.” 15 minutes after, my phone rang. It was the PG&E supervisor who said “a crew will be there between 1 PM to 5 PM today. It only took 20 minutes after our conversation and here they come. There’s no amount of despair or disappointment will ever hinder the will of God to be among us. God is good, all the time!
Friends, miracles continue to happen for as long as we recognize that God is with us, working for us, giving us hope and that we always doing things that will please Him. Happy Fiesta to all.
Viva Santo Nino!!