Today we recall the baptism of our Lord. Today also unfortunately marks the official end of the Christmas season. That’s why we’ve taken down our beautiful Christmas decorations in the church.
Some of us may want to hang on to the holidays and actually feel sad about ending Christmas so soon; others, however, probably think that it’s about time, having had enough of all the celebrating–and eating–at Christmas. Time to re-implement our yearly New Year resolution to go on that discarded diet and to get back on that exercise regimen! Time to go back to what the Church so appropriately calls “Ordinary Time.”
No matter how you feel about the end of Christmas, the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord seems to me like a pretty abrupt way of doing it. The last time we checked on the baby Jesus, he was in the manger, surrounded by angels, shepherds, and wise men from the East. Today suddenly he’s a fully grown adult, just about to begin his Public Ministry.
When did that happen?
Quite abruptly, quite out of nowhere and amidst great expectations, Jesus arrives on the scene. His cousin, John the Baptist, has, as foretold, been preparing the way for him, calling the people to repentance and baptizing them at the River Jordan for the forgiveness of sins: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
But what happens when the prophesied mightier one finally shows up? The long-awaited Messiah joins that crowd of sinners and like them, asks for John’s baptism. Imagine that: The holy Son of God himself goes through a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. When you think about it, Jesus is sinless and has no need for John’s baptism. He doesn’t have to, but he does it just the same. And the reason? The same reason why he has become human in the first place. Because he loves us, he wants to be one of us and near us.
Let’s not forget: That’s the very same reason for Christmas in the first place! The Son of God took flesh and made his dwelling among us to be one of us and to be near us. He willingly went through this entire tedious process of being human: being born a helpless child dependent on his parents, going through every single uncertain, painful thing we go through as we grow up… Because he loves us, and he wants to be one of us and near us.
Christ didn’t need to become human: He certainly could have loved us from a distance. He didn’t need to pry himself from heaven and hide his divinity, but out of love, he did it just the same. Come to think of it, neither did he need to offer his life–experience a most painful and humiliating death on the cross in order to save us. He certainly could have saved us in some other painless and bloodless way. He didn’t have to, but again, out of love, he did it just the same.
Maybe one message for us today, one takeaway for us as we recall the Baptism of the Lord, is that Jesus didn’t have to do so many of the things he did, but he did them just the same–out of his great love for us. This going the un-required extra mile–I suspect it is what makes the Father gaze upon Jesus with such love and cry out, “You are my Beloved Son; with you I am well pleased!”
So a question to ask ourselves today: What about us? What could be one or two things that God may be inviting us to do that we actually don’t really need to do, but we could do anyway out of love? Now, all of us have obligations–things we need to do–but once in a while, we stumble over opportunities to do more than what is required of us. Are we willing to take those opportunities?
For example, when we need to take care of someone sick in our family. We can fulfill all our basic duties, all the stuff demanded of us, the so-called minimum requirements,but maybe we can also do just a little bit more–like exert an extra effort to make the person happy, or simply going about things a bit more cheerfully.
Or when we’re attending Mass: It’s good enough to show up every Sunday, but is there something extra that we can do–like exert a little more effort and spend a little more time in recalling the blessings that God has given us this last week and to thank Him more earnestly for them?
Yesterday, I was exploring the neighborhood, and being new in town, I couldn’t help but observe so many people living on the streets. But something stopped me in my tracks: I saw a couple handing out a sandwich to a homeless person and actually engaging him in conversation. I thought about that a lot: The couple could have just helped the homeless by going through some agency devoted to helping them, like St. Agnes. They didn’t have to do what they did, but they did it just the same. What was their motivation? I don’t know. Love for God maybe, or love for humanity in general? One thing for sure, what they did meant so much and spelled all the difference.
It is, after all, when we do something that we don’t really need to do, but we do it just the same, out of love, that what is mere duty is transformed into a precious, freely offered gift, and in the process, we become more like Christ. Those moments, heaven breaks open, and we find ourselves suddenly basking in the Father’s benevolent smile and–who knows?–we may actually hear Him call us “Beloved.”