0 Liked

The Baptism of the Lord

“I am baptizing you with water …. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Lk. 3:15

It all began with baptism.

Not that I, in any way, remember my baptism!

My guess is that you don’t remember yours either.

Baptized as an infant, I have no recollection whatsoever of the event much less of anything even faintly resembling the “Holy Spirit and fire” described in today’s Gospel.

But what I do know now is that what we call “faith” began for me, and you, in those moments when the priest poured water over our heads, anointed us with sacred oil, handed our godparents, or parents, a lighted candle, and said these sacred words:

“May you be given a new birth …. Know that you are now welcomed into his holy people …. You are clothed in Christ …. May you keep the flame of faith alive in your heart.”

That’s when our life of faith began.

I know this, as you do, because our parents and godparents have assured us that it took place. I know it because the day, the time, the names of the godparents, the priest, and the church were all inscribed in our family Bibles – which usually rested on a table in our living rooms.

Baptism was the beginning experience for each of us – an experience that opened a door leading us into a life highlighted by what we have come to refer to as “faith.”

This “faith” that our parents and godparents passed on to us created a belief system that has had profound effects in each of our lives.

For example, it established our full names.

In many instances it reminds us of why we have a particular view of the world that has affected a whole variety of life choices, life attitudes, and life meanings.

It tells us how we were introduced to certain kinds of music, art, books, philosophies and worldviews. In many cases, it determined where we went to school, who we would marry, what kind of work we would do.

Baptism is a life determiner.

It’s where it all began for each of us.

In many cases, it even established a particular experience that influenced innumerable decisions that we’ve made in our lives.

It certainly did for the man named “John” featured in today’s Gospel reading. In fact, he was so influenced by the experience of baptism that he came to be called “the Baptizer.”

However, John had a limited view of baptism. He preached judgment, repentance, fire and brimstone – in other words, his view of God was partial, limited.

But John was certainly on track in understanding that serious change and renewal was needed. And that understanding alone is surely why God chose him to call people to a new kind of life of faith.

It’s also why Jesus himself embraced baptism.

Just like for each of us, for Jesus, too, baptism was where it all began.
Only Jesus’ baptismal experience was far more influential, far more rich.  
It was the beginning of an entirely new way of viewing God.

Jesus was introduced through this baptismal experience to the realization that the God he called, Abba, had fallen madly in love with all of creation. As such, Abba, was not a God who wanted to punish or create an unfathomable distance from all people, but rather a God who wanted nothing more than to embrace each of us with the love of a father.

Jesus took John the Baptist’s vision of God to an entirely different level, creating a whole new image of God – a God who had fallen in love.

The punishment and retribution, the hell fire and damnation that John preached would be replaced, as John himself puts it, by Abba – the God of Jesus, the God John described at that particular baptism in the river Jordan:

“I am baptizing … with water, but one mightier than I is coming …. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Lk. 3:15-16

Jesus demonstrated the reality of this God in countless ways:
by forgiving sinners, eating with outcasts, raising the dead to new life, throwing fatherly arms around and kissing the son who was destroying his own life, giving sight to the blind man, forgiving the adulterer, and allowing the errant woman to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair.

We, too, become God’s beloved sons and daughters through being baptized into Christ.

That’s why our parents and godparents gifted each of us with our initial step into a life of faith by having us each baptized … sprinkled with holy water, anointed with holy oil, and blessed with these sacred words:

“May you keep the flame of faith alive in your heart.”

Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.

Art by Jim Matarelli 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email