The Baptism of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Lay Carmelites/OLR, NOLA
“Thus says the Lord: All you who are thirsty, come to the water!” The water is given. . .but we must go to the water. If we are thirsty, we drink. The water is given, but we must choose to drink. “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat. . .” The grain is given. . .but we must go to the grain. If we are hungry, we eat. The grain is given, but we must choose to eat. As it is with God's gifts of water and grain, so it is with God's mercy, so it is with His forgiveness. If we are repentant, we confess. Forgiveness is given, but we must choose to receive that forgiveness. Who starves to death, or dies of thirst when grain and water are freely given? How many of us remain in sin when absolution is a gift just waiting to be unwrapped? One of the themes of Christmas, the Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord is our unworthiness to be given the gift of eternal life. Truly, we do not deserve this prize. However, we are made worthy, we are made to deserve this gift by the birth, the baptism, the death, and the resurrection of the Lord. Having been handed—without cost to us, without any work from us—the keys to our Father's Kingdom, why would we hesitate, why would we balk at stepping up to and stepping into a life of holiness with Him? “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near!”
Our Lord is never nearer to us than He is right now. His call to us is never clearer than it is right now. His gift of eternal life is never more ready to be received than it is right now. The urgency that Isiah puts into his prophecy isn't simply rhetorical; in other words, he's not just being dramatic for the sake of being dramatic. The Lord says to Isiah that His Word will go forth from His mouth and it “shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” That Word, the Word sent out to do God's will, is the Christ, the Son made flesh and he will not return to the Father until the job he was sent to do is done. Since the Christ has returned to the Father, we know that the job he was sent to do has been done. That job is our salvation. The offer of mercy in flesh and blood has been made—once, for all; to Jew and Gentile alike—and now it's our turn. Do we receive His mercy? Do you take all that has been given to you and put it all to work for the greater glory of God? If not, then you condemn yourself to starve and die of thirst within sight of grain and water.
Christ's baptism in the Jordan by John's hand is the baptism of the world. Every creature, every made thing is washed clean, made holy, and brought into a new creation. God's human creatures are given the freedom to follow Christ's example in baptism, or to continue as natural creatures until death. But b/c each of us is gifted with an immortal soul, the decision to continue on as a natural creature has consequences beyond death. Without God's mercy, without receiving His forgiveness, we perish by being forever separated from Him. Baptism brings us into the life of Christ and sets us on the narrow way toward our destined freedom in His love. Baptism makes possible every other means of receiving God's gifts. Baptism is the first but not the only invitation we get to come and enjoy the blessings of God's generosity. Why would we choose to remain natural creatures when our supernatural end is provided free of charge? Why would we remain in sin when our freedom from sin is already paid for, already purchased? So, receive all that God given you!
How do we receive all that we have been given? First, we ask for what we need in prayer. Asking for our needs to be met puts us in a proper relationship with God; that is, as creatures totally dependent on Him for everything we need, we place ourselves before Him in humility, acknowledging our dependency. Second, even before we get what we need, we give Him thanks. Giving thanks before our prayers are answered ensures that we remain in humility and grow in humility even as we reap His blessings. This also prevents us from becoming spoiled brats who take and take but never acknowledge the source of our blessings. Third, celebrate the sacraments as often as possible, always knowing that God's mercy is freely given and never runs out. The sacraments are the ordinary means of receiving grace. God is not bound by His sacraments, but He has established them for us as guaranteed fonts of assistance. We'd be foolish not to take advantage of them as often as they are available. And finally, all the gifts we receive from God are multiplied in the sharing of them. By its very nature, God's abundance is diffusive. Like an expensive perfume sprayed in one room of the house, before long, the whole house smells! God's abundance naturally (by nature) adds to itself, multiplying, advancing, and blessing everyone it touches. When we assist the diffusion of His abundant gifts, we are doubly blessed.
Our Lord is blessed and baptized to fulfill all righteousness under the Law. His baptism reveals his nature and mission: he is the Christ sent to save the world from sin and death. His offer of mercy and forgiveness is made daily, hourly and all we need to do is accept his offer and thrive in holiness. When we come to Him in humility with thanksgiving, He says to each one of us: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.”
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