Today’s gospel reading is about the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrate today.
Do you remember what happened on that day? Without looking at your Bible can you tell the story?
Most people would recall the image of the Spirit’s Dove, the Jordan River and, of course, John and Jesus. Some may even recall God’s revealing words about Jesus, “You are my beloved Son!”
Or what God added, “I am happy with you!” Or, as can be translated as well, “You are ready to go.”
I bet that most would have skip what appears almost anecdotal information. But consider this fact – What appears just tidbit of circumstantial information yet, it is included in all the stories of the Baptism. Telling, isn’t it?
What am I talking about? Where did the Spirit come from? Here is what St Mark had to say, “And the heavens were ripped apart and the Spirit came over Jesus, as a gentle dove,” in affirmation of Jesus being a righteous person.
The word that Mark uses in his gospel to describe the ripping apart would be the same to the one describing the ripping apart a large piece of paper or a piece of cloth.
Fr. Michael Chua, a parish priest from Singapore remarks that from heavens, “Instead of torrential rains and floods, instead of destructive fire and brimstone, we hear the voice of God the Father and we see a glimpse of the most profound mystery of faith, the innermost center of God’s life. (…)
The heavens were ripped apart and yet there was, “Not fire and brimstone, not a flood, but a dove, a sign of peace, divine forgiveness, and reconciliation. Not a booming voice of God announcing the wrath and judgment of God over sinful humanity but an affirming voice of love and paternal charity.”
Well, you may say – “Jesus was Jesus, after all.” For all that we know, however, until his baptism, Jesus was just the son of Joseph who, as tradition would have dictated, would have been working alongside his father. Until the baptism there were no miracles, no temptations, no sermons, no healings. With all due respect, until that day, Jesus was just as plain vanilla as they come.
But now God says, “I love you! You are ready to go!” In other words, baptism was not a crowning ceremony, but a commissioning ceremony. And like in the story of Creation that we just heard in our first lesson God came in full force – “Let there be light! And there was light!”
In our baptism also God’s comes through. It doesn’t matter whether you were baptized as a baby or an adult. Or if you can remember what happened that day. What it is important is to remember that when you were baptized, the heavens were ripped apart for the Holy Spirit to touch your life.
In other words, there is nothing out of God’s reach. Not even ourselves. But here is the thing, God didn’t come with his big notebook calling all debts or questioning every and each single thing that you did – or even thought of doing or looked the other way to avoid doing it. Or even whether you were aware about what was going on. That’s the miracle of loving grace and mercy.
What it is most important is not what we do during baptism, or what we believe, or even as I said, if one were even to be aware of what is going on. For this is the bottom line – Like what happened one day by the River Jordan’s banks, what happened during your baptism was a hundred percent God.
Baptism is not about what we do, but about what God does out of his own goodness and kindness of heart. God sends out of His own, His own Spirit to rest upon us. Again, not as crowning ceremony, but as commissioning ceremony sending us into the world.
Let me quote Fr Michael again. “We’re here today because we know heaven is open. And the good news is that the tear has not been repaired. Heaven’s grace is still leaking, nay, it is still invading this earth.
“Now heaven is torn open when the heart of a sinner turns from sin to grace. Now heaven is torn open when the Word of God is read. Now heaven is torn open every time a baby or adult is baptized. Heaven is torn open each time we come before the Lord’s altar and receive the body and blood of Jesus in His holy Sacrament.
“Heaven is open, and God gives us His Holy Spirit. And because Jesus is our Savior and has washed away our sins and made us His brothers and sisters, our God says about us, “You are My son, or My daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Or “You are ready to go.”
Today, January 7, we kick off the new year. A year where we will be called to go through challenges as well as from moments of pure joy. A new year where we may face unknown unknowns as well as the inner peace that comes when we realize that no matter what, God still loves us.
A new year to be anchored not so much by our new year’s resolutions, but anchored by God’s everlasting love, mercy, and grace. Indeed, it is in such assurance that you can trust God when He tells you, “You are ready to go!”
As you journey through the new year, please be assured that God will keep watch over you and even if you forget it, He will be walking along with you through dark valleys and sunny meadows, always ready to bestow upon you, as the Psalmist says, “The blessings of peace.” (Psalm 29:11).