Isaiah 42: 1-7; Matthew 3: 13-17
If you began faith formation in CCD, like myself, you probably spent at least some of the time using the Baltimore Catechism. My guess is many of you can probably still remember some of the questions and the answers that followed…Who is God? Why did God create me? There was also, “What is a sacrament?” A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. I remember during Confirmation back then the bishop would come and quiz you before receiving the sacrament and undoubtably, that would be one of the questions, followed by the next one in naming the seven sacraments. An outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. It has been revised in the new catechism but this is the one drilled into my head after those years, and the thing was, it didn’t even matter if you knew what any of that meant. My guess is none of us really did; all that matter was that you could repeat it to the bishop.
An outward sign that points to an inward reality, our true identity. It’s really what culminates this Christmas season as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and the beginning of him living out that identity in the ministry we will witness to in the weeks ahead. But what is true for Christ is true for us; that outward sign points to the inward reality of who we really are as well, sons and daughters of God. This was the ongoing controversy in the first century, though, as to the true identity of Jesus and what did he know and this whole sense of the early communities feeling ashamed that Jesus would come to John to be baptized. That’s a struggle that has gone on long after, trying to make sense and wrap minds around the fact that God became flesh. It was hard and at times is still hard to understand just how and why God would do that. Many have tried to explain this reality away! But after the past few weeks of looking at the what and how and where and everything else in those months surrounding Jesus’ birth, today, makes a choice to be baptized by John, and out of this action, the identity of Jesus and us is revealed. That’s why it’s so important for us to celebrate this baptism today and many Sunday’s during the year because it becomes a constant reminder of who we are. Baptism isn’t something that we do; it is rather something or someone that we are. Can we accept that about ourselves or is it just as difficult as it was in the beginning of Jesus’ public life?
Using these images that have surrounded this season…we could spend our lives trying to build a stable and worship the stable and never really seek out the life within the stable; keeps us at a safe distance. Or we could spend our lives in fear and insecure as Herod did in last weeks gospel. That Herod within us can’t handle the power and greatness of the Christ and so does what he needs to do to squash the child, leaving us empty and constantly searching. But there is also today’s feast. Isaiah tells us today that this God doesn’t come shouting and screaming, but is rather gentle and humble, not overbearing but rather seeks forgiveness and unending mercy, reminding us always of who we really are, the sons and daughters of God. How easy it is to quiet that voice, ignore it, listen rather to the loud, booming voices outside ourselves and within telling us that we cannot be sons and daughters of God, reminding us of our unworthiness, telling us that we are sin rather than grace. Yet, that gentle voice tries to raise up and remind us of our true identity, a truly good reason to gather here each week, that we are sons and daughters of God.
An outward sign pointing to the inward reality of who we really are. It’s the grace of not only this sacrament of baptism but this Eucharist as well, pointing us to who we really are. Over these weeks of Ordinary Time, and maybe over the course of our entire lives, we will spend time not only trying to accept it and believe that about ourselves, but ultimately, as Jesus will teach over these weeks, to live it. We pray today that we may accept that gift of ourselves, our true identity, revealed today in the Christ’s baptism, for it is true of us as well…to trust and believe and then live out of that identity, in full, in our daily lives.