My homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Year C) as preached at the 5pm Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton.
The readings were Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22.
“His baptism marks the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, and inauguration of the messianic age that is the Kingdom of God. We live here and now in the Kingdom, though imperfect, a Kingdom that began there and then on the banks of the River Jordan.”
As we have heard there was great expectation at the preaching of John the Baptist. He had come as we have heard in other places from the wilderness, he was dressed rather strangely, but he was preaching the good news of repentance and conversion, calling people back to their right relationship with God.
So it is only natural that people thought that this might be the Christ, the promised one, the one whom God had foretold all those aeons ago. But John was also very clear and said, ‘No it’s not me. I am not the one you were looking for. That one is still yet to come. You have to be patient. And in the meantime, you must convert. You must come back to the Lord; you must realign yourself with those things that God has commanded us so that when the promised one comes, when the Christ arrives, you will find him and he will find you and life will continue in a good way.
John was baptising not for salvation. John was baptising for conversion. It’s a radically different thing. He promised that the one who is yet to come, he would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and so bring salvation to the whole world.
So it’s in that context that we find Jesus on the banks of the Jordan. Having visited his cousin John the Baptist in that place, he too entered into the waters of the Jordan and was baptised. And then there’s that wonderful saying that we find in Luke’s gospel, not recorded in any other. “While he was praying”. The heavens are opened, and the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove. “While he was praying”.
In that moment earth and heaven are united, the barrier that exists between heaven and earth is dissipated, and our prayers pierce the heavens, and so bring those wonderful words: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased”. There on the banks the Jordan the Messianic age begins. There in that place, the whole of the history of salvation is brought to fulfilment as the promised one begins his public ministry and brings salvation in the form of himself. There on the banks of the Jordan, the Kingdom of God is initiated and inaugurated, and it spreads from there to the whole of the Ancient Near East and indeed to all the continents and indeed to all the world. And has spread its wings from that place, the banks of the Jordan, right throughout the whole world. Not just in terms of space but in terms of time as well.
From that date til now, the Kingdom of God is with us.
We are called to live in that messianic age, an age that was inaugurated on the banks of the Jordan and live it as best we can. It will never be complete; it will never be perfect this side of the Second Coming of Jesus as we have been promised. But until then we are called to live as if the Kingdom of God already exists in this world even if imperfectly.
And we are called to constantly align our lives with the demands of the gospel, with what Jesus commands us, what God asks of us. So that the Kingdom of God is real, here and now, just as it was there and then.
It has spread its wings as I say all across the world and it has spread its existence for all the centuries that intervened between then and now. And we are called to live the Kingdom of God here and now because it exists here and now.
So on this feast of the Baptism the Lord we are reminded that what we are living for is not something yet to come. What we are living for is already present, imperfectly. But we are called to live it and to live it day by day better and better with God’s grace so that the Kingdom of God may be made more and more manifest here and now in this place and in this time just as it was inaugurated back there back then.
Then when the second coming arrives, we will hear those wonderful words as well: “These are my beloved children. With them, I am well pleased”.