Sunday, January 10, 2021- The Baptism of the Lord
“On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Words from our Gospel today from the 1st chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mark – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
The local church decided to have an Old-Fashioned Baptism, and so the congregation accordingly gathered around their minister at the edge of the nearby river one Sunday. A curious passerby came along wondering what all the commotion was about. At once the pastor reached out to the newcomer and asked him if he had found Jesus yet. The stranger responded, “no,” so the pastor took the man and dunked him underwater. When he came up the preacher asked the man, “Have you found Jesus yet?” The man again said “no.” Again the minister immersed him in the water but longer this time and asked the whole congregation to pray over him. When he emerged from the water, the pastor asked a third time, “Have you found Jesus yet?” to which the once passerby replied, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Water is so very powerful. On the one hand, we know that water has incredibly destructive capabilities. On average 10 people die every day by drowning, and I keep hearing the advertisements on the radio saying that it is the number one cause of death in children. While in some ways we are still cleaning up from Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, this past year was the most active and 7th costliest hurricane season on record. Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean killed a quarter of a million people in 2004 and tsunami Tohoku practically caused a nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011. Water is the leading cause of erosion, causing change in landscapes and the collapse of bridges, houses, and other structures. When water freezes, it dumps hundreds of inches of snow on our roads and on our roofs. Water certainly has the potential to be disruptive, destructive, and dangerous. And yet, we know that without water, there would be no life. As we explore our universe, we are always looking for the presence of water on other planets to see whether or not it can support life. Not only do most species live in bodies of water, but water is a large percentage of the makeup of all living things, really, and it allows organisms to function. And so, we need to hydrate ourselves with water. From water we make coffee, and tea, and beer. All the breweries that are popping up around here are dependent upon access to water. We use water to brush our teeth, flush our toilets, as well as to wash our bodies, our dishes, and our cars. We water our gardens and have irrigation systems to grow our crops. As the skies open up, we go out and sing in the rain. Water helps us fight fires. Locally, we use water to generate hydro-electric power. Buffalo’s waterfront and the nearby ski resorts rely on water. Historically, Buffalo sprung up with the Erie Canal, having access to many connecting waterways for transportation. Without a doubt, water has so, so much influence over our lives. And for that reason, water is an apt Christian symbol as well. Just as it is impossible to imagine our everyday lives without water, so it is impossible to imagine our Christian lives without the waters of Baptism.
Through the waters of Baptism, two things happen. The first of which is destruction. It causes death. We don’t like to think of that, but we know and see in ourselves and in our world, the sinfulness that is present. It is everywhere. We can’t just pretend that evil isn’t a problem or that it will go away on its own. All the trappings of this sinful world must be done away with, so that something new can enter in. All of this took place on the cross when Jesus died. Christ so united himself to the human race, that when Jesus was nailed to the cross, he took upon himself all the sins of the world, and sin and death was destroyed together with him. When we are baptized, we give our sinful bodies over to Christ and become sharers in his own death. In other words, through the waters of baptism, sin is washed away and it is destroyed. Its effects remain, and the wounds of sin haunt us still, but sin and death themselves are rendered powerless. And this is so because of the second thing that happens in baptism: resurrection. As Jesus rose from the dead, a new life freed from sin and death is opened to us. As in baptism we were made sharers in his death, so too do we become sharers in his divine life. And just as water is life-giving and sustains everything, so too through the waters of Baptism, do we find that Christ gives us and sustains us in a new divine life. Rising from the Jordan River, Jesus heard: “You are my beloved,” and God has proclaimed these very words over everyone baptized since that day. Water is destructive and life-giving. So, in the waters of baptism two things happen at the same time: we are united to Christ’s death, making an end of sin, and we are united to his resurrection, with a new life beginning in us.
As we cannot think of a life without water, just so, everything we do, everything that we are as Christians becomes oriented around our baptismal life. We must constantly root out sin and strive to live out the life of resurrection as God’s own sons and daughters in Christ. Coming to understand the meaning of Baptism, accepting the grace and responsibility given to us through Baptism, is the fundamental task of the Christian life. To this end, Isaiah implores us in our first reading to eradicate sin; he says, “let the scoundrel forsake his ways and the wicked his thoughts.” Likewise, St. John tells us in the second reading to stand in the new life won for us. For in following the way of Christian love through the commandments, we are begotten by God, and if we are begotten by God, we conquer the world, and the victory that conquers the world is our life of faith. Racism, riots, abuse, sickness, poverty, perversion, failure, sin, death… though we may have to endure these things in this world, nothing becomes too great for those who have faith. Through the waters of Baptism, Jesus has joined us in these things, and yet rose over them all. So now, we are likewise called in our Baptism to bring new life to a wayward world. Last point…
You may recall that line from Fiddler on the Roof: “Is there a blessing for the Tsar? May the Lord bless him, and keep him – far away from us!” Like our Jewish brothers and sisters, we Catholics bless everything. Why? Because water pervades everything. Because through our baptism, we are called in everything to wash evil away and bring new life. That’s why we bless people and houses and rosaries and cars and Christmas trees and throats and jobs and various occasions and all sorts of things. We remind ourselves of this every time we pray and bless ourselves and make the sign of the cross. We are calling to mind our baptism, and our mission in the world, and often we use holy water as a sign of this. Since the pandemic has made the sharing of water difficult, we are giving out holy water bottles that you can take with you. Just as from the heavens the rains come down and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, so must you be as a member of Christ’s Body, not returning to God void, but achieving his will for which you were sent. Root out sin, bring them new life. Be a blessing to the world.