Today, the Church formally closes the Season of Christmas and starts the Ordinary of the Year with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan marks the beginning of his public life. Although our successive commemoration of the birth of the Child Christ and ministry of the Adult Christ may seem too abrupt, the baptism of Jesus can actually be understood as an extension of Christmas and a fuller unfolding of the Christmas mystery (of incarnation).
In Bethlehem, Jesus shares our humanity and becomes one of us, a man. In the Jordan, Jesus joins a repentant people seeking baptism and identifies himself as one of us, a sinner. This he did so that we, in turn, can become like him, God’s beloved children. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor 5:21)
Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan anticipates his baptism of blood on the cross and symbolizes the sacrament by which he would bring about the salvation of humankind. As the antiphon of today’s liturgy joyfully proclaims, “Christ is baptized and the whole world is made holy. He wipes out the debt of our sins; we will all be purified by water and the Holy Spirit.”
Thus, we see the strict relationship between the baptism of Jesus and our own baptism. In fact, we can understand the meaning of our baptism only in the light of Jesus’ own baptism. What happened to him in the river Jordan demonstrates what happened to us at our baptism: heaven opened for us, the Holy Spirit came to bring the divine life in us (sanctifying grace), thus making us God’s beloved children.
To be a child of God! What greater honor and dignity can there be? No title or position can match the pre-eminence of being a son or daughter of God. Our divine sonship far exceeds our human worth and dignity. Now we know why we should give as much respect to a poor man (the least of my brethren) as to a rich man. Both are precious in God’s eyes since both are his children.
And because we are God’s children, we are beloved. “This is my Son, my beloved one.” As the Father uttered these words at Jesus’ baptism, he also uttered them at our own. This divine affirmation of our divine filiation is not only our greatest consolation, but also our greatest source of strength to face every challenge in life.
Addressing himself to the youth and to all baptized as well, Pope Francis says, “The very first truth I would tell each of you is this: ‘God loves you.’ Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life. At every moment, you are infinitely loved.” (Christus Vivit, 112)
I may have shared this already. As new bishop of Kabankalan, I took for my motto, “Amorem Dei Ferens” (Bearer of God’s Love), to articulate my pastoral program and express my sincere desire to bring God’s love to his people. By the time I ended my term, I changed my motto for I felt that the original one was a bit too presumptuous. After fourteen years, I realized that it was the clergy and the people of Kabankalan who brought God’s love to me. For indeed, I had never felt so much loved as in those years.
God’s love comes to us from those around us. As baptized, we are all recipients and bearers of God’s love for one another. It is said that whenever the aging John (the apostle) was asked to speak to the Christian community, he would always repeat, “Love one another.” When he was asked to speak of something else, he would respond that to love one another is the only thing that matters. “For God is love, and he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1Jn 4:16)
A final note. In the Jordan, the Father did not only say to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son,” but also, “With you I am well pleased.” Can he say the same of us? While we are certain that we are God’s beloved children, how certain are we that we are also pleasing to him?
We know that what makes Jesus pleasing to the Father is his obedience, his total submission to the divine will. And so it is with us.*