A few years ago, Fr. John Henry passed away. Fr. Henry was a retired priest form the Diocese of Rockville Center, NY, who used to help out our parish on weekends, and eventually was in residence with us. He was wonderful. Now our Director of Music Ministry, Anne, will often ask the priests before Mass what they are preaching on to see if there is some music piece she could play that would develop the theme of the homily. But her conversation with Fr. Henry was always the same. She would ask, “So, Father, what are you preaching on?” “Sin,” he would answer, and in an Irish accent add, “And I’m agin’ it.” At which time, Anne would smile, I would crack up and Anne would say, “I just don’t see how that is so funny.” I guess I was wondering if he thought we might be in favor of it.
So what has this got to do with today’s feast, the Baptism of the Lord? Sin was the reason why people were baptized by John the Baptist. They wanted the world to be changed. They wanted the Kingdom of God that John had been proclaiming. They knew that the change had to begin with themselves. So they renounced sin and accepted John’s baptism. Jesus joined them in their determination to fight against sin. He also was “agin’ it.” He joined them by accepting John’s baptism. As we just heard in the Gospel, John protested saying that he needed to be baptized by Jesus. Jesus responded, “Allow this for now, for this fulfills all righteousness.” Simply speaking, by righteousness Jesus means that these people who are determined to renounce sin are doing the right thing, the thing that God wanted them to do. Righteousness is God’s plan for His people. Jesus, publically joins them in the fight against sin. He wants the world to see that He is part of God’s plan for mankind. He is fulfilling all righteousness. This manifestation of His Holiness to the people of the world is, therefore, an epiphany.
Jesus also told John that his baptism should be allowed, but only for now. John’s baptism was a statement for the Kingdom. Jesus’ baptism would be infinitely more than that. Jesus’ baptism would not only be a renouncing of sin, but a forgiveness of sin, and an instilling of the Life of God. That’s why John said, “I am baptizing you with water, but the One who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus goes into the Jordan River to raise up from that river all of us who are continually doing battle with sin. Our society denies sin. Couples live together without marrying and people say, “That’s OK, everyone is doing it.” People routinely steal and lie, and others say, “This is the way you have to behave to get by.” People lose control of themselves, get totally drunk, and others say, “It’s OK, as long as he or she is not driving.” We are living in a society that accepts as normal that which conscience declares is immoral. We live in a society that refuses to recognize sin. Actually, there are times when the existence of sin is acknowledged. Those times of recognition of sin come when the sinner is caught sinning, usually by his or her spouse.
So here we are, followers of Jesus Christ, standing in the river of life, and determined to do battle with sin. But often we fail. Even with our determination to be moral, we still fail. We say that we are not going to do this or that, but then we let ourselves go a little and before we realize it, we plunge into the sin we hate. Then we are devastated by our actions. We are upset that we gave into evil. We feel very much down on ourselves. But Jesus comes down into the river. He tells us that He is one with us in fighting sin. And He raises us from the river, taking us with Him as His disciples, giving us His Life.
When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and a voice resounded from heaven saying, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The One who joins us in the fight against evil is the Son of God. He is more powerful than evil. He is infinitely more powerful that all that is trying to suck life out of us. He conquers all. We need to trust Him to fight with us against the immorality that seeks to destroy us. We place ourselves into His hands. We trust in His power.
Many of the Fathers of the Church wrote that Jesus sanctified the waters of the Jordan with His Presence. United with Jesus in the Jordan of our lives, in that place where we are determined to fight sin, we witness the Lord saving us from the turmoil of life, giving us peace and happiness. Sin destroys happiness. Jesus restores joy. Joy to the world we can rightly sing on this last Sunday of the Christmas Season. Joy to the world, the Lord has come.
The Baptism of the Lord is the second of the three epiphanies, the three showings of the Lord. The first epiphany was the visit of the magi telling the world that Jesus is the King of Kings. The third epiphany is the Wedding Feast of Cana where the King of King sets into motion the hour, the events that will lead to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The second epiphany is the Baptism of the Lord, where Jesus is revealed as accepting the mission the Father has sent Him to earth to accomplish. It is the mission to destroy the grip of evil upon the world. By allowing John to baptize Him, Jesus is declaring that He is one with all who are willing to fight evil, willing to fight for His Father’s Kingdom.
The battle against evil was enjoined at the baptism of the Lord, but the battle continues on in each of our lives as we make a stand for morality, a stand for goodness, a stand for truth. Today we ask the Lord to continue to lead us out of the river of sin. We ask the Lord to give us the courage to join Him in fighting evil. We ask the Lord to help us live in a way that we too might be pleasing to the Father.