Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2017, Year A.
Brothers and sisters, we have seen a great light, and on us and the whole Church has a great light shined. For to us a Child is born, to us a Son of God is given. He has been given for the salvation of all men, He has poured Himself out richly upon us. Think of what has been revealed to us through the Liturgy and the biblical revelation over the last two months: babes leapt in wombs, the mute and dumb sang joyously, souls have proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. Angels we have heard on high, shepherds and wise men have come to see the Child, and been shown the Child by His Mother, indeed the Mother of God, who bore God in her heart before she bore Him in her womb, a Mother of God who has felt and seen glory inexpressible. And the Holy Name of this Child has been revealed—Jesus, He who saves, He who loves, He who forgives, He around whom the stars and planets and moons arrange, He by whom lives are changed, journeys reordered, hearts opened.
All that has been revealed to us is wonder and awe. All that has been revealed cannot but soften the hardest of hearts, cannot but loosen the tightest of fears, cannot but open closed doors. And through these glorious seasons of Advent, Christmastide, and now into the season of Epiphany, what have we done but sing? What have we done but pray together in joy and hope? What have we done but reminisce of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, in our families, in our homes? What have we done but savor the holy?
And today, God reveals still more of His loving Self. For in the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the River Jordan is revealed the Holy Trinity. Epiphany is a word that means “manifestation,” it means “showing forth.” What shows forth was previously unknown, or known through a glass darkly, or known but in shadows and curious echoes. The truth bursts forth today, immediately coming up from the water, as if truth itself demands to breathe oxygen—the one true God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In previous covenants with Israel—and let us note well that this Jesus of Nazareth was born into a particular religious ethos that thought strongly in terms of the chosen race, the promised land, about a coming messiah—the one true God was seen as Father, Who created the universe out of His love, for God is love. We see now that the perfect God must be self-sharing by nature. He must manifest Himself in the divine person of Another—indeed in a Son, who is eternal, divine, and uncreated—the radiance of the glory of God and the express image of His Person. Jesus is the Son of the Father’s love, and all things we created by and for this Son. And yet this Son did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, a suffering servant, a servant who will not cry or lift up His voice, will not fail or be discouraged till he has taught the universe how to pray, how to be in right relationship with reality.
And the Holy Spirit is revealed today as well. The Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and Son, the loving recognition of Son embracing Father, and Father embracing Son. The Holy Spirit is the will the Father and Son share, and as love the Holy Spirit proceeds from both Persons, for love is always between.
Why, then, did Jesus need to be baptized? Certainly there was no sin, in Him. Sin is separation from God, and between the Father and Son there is no separation, for the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. Jesus was baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness. It was so that He could truly be sealed as Suffering Servant, as Messiah and Lord of the Church, and as High Priest of all worship by the People of God. “To fulfill all righteousness” means to bring together and integrate into a new holiness, a new glory, a Light of light newly available to our spiritual eyes. He was baptized not because He needed it, but for our benefit.
The question of why Jesus needed to be baptized might by analogy be asked of the eucharistic vessels shortly to be put on the Altar. It is said that after the Precious Blood is received by the People of God, the Chalice is purified. Why must the Chalice be purified? Did it not just touch the holiness of our spiritual drink, even Jesus Himself? Of course it did, and yet it must be purified. It must be purified not because it is unclean, not because it was dirty—quite the opposite! It is purified because it touched holiness. To purify is to affirm that divine activity happened, and is still happening. Purification is a seal that what was holy in the cup is how holy in our hearts, holy in its entirely within our bodies.
Jesus was baptized to offer His seal that what was holy in the waters of the River Jordon is still holy, but is now holy in Him—the beloved Son of the Father, in whom the Father is well pleased, and on whom the Holy Spirit of God alights like a dove. Amen.