My guess is that not many of us still have our Christmas trees up – and yet we should. . . because liturgically – in the Church – the Christmas season does not end until we celebrate the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism--- as we do today.
It may seem kind of strange to conclude the season in which we celebrate the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem ---- with an event that takes place 30 years after Christ was born. . . and about 6 miles from his place of birth. . .
But this feast celebrates a very important truth related to the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place.
At Christmas, when Christ was born, we believe that God – who loves us so much – became one of us – a human being --- with a father and a mother who loved him --- two arms, two legs, a personality, likes and dislikes, with friends and neighbors --- a person like us in all things but sin.
At Christmas God was plunged into our humanity and shares our humanity ---- and when we are Baptized – we are plunged into divinity and we share in God’s divinity --- a wonderful exchange that the Church proclaims at the celebration of every Mass when the priest or deacon pours water into the chalice of wine at the offertory and says:
By the mystery of this water and wine – may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
I always thought it was unfortunate that this prayer is said silently – rather than out loud – as it is quite a profound statement. [Repeat]
Yes, a wonderful exchange – God becomes a human so our lowly human bodies may be transformed after the pattern of Christ’s own glorious body.
So the Lord’s Baptism – is an important link in the chain between his saving birth and our new birth in the Sacrament of Baptism.
St. Leo the Great, who was Pope from 440 AD until his death in 461 --- used to give special catechism lessons to the newly Baptized.
He would instruct them: “Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and have been brought into the light of the kingdom of God. Never forget!
Recalling that we are baptized should bring joy to us when we are sad – and strengthen us when we are tempted. A powerful way to fight off temptation and sin --- is to recall our Baptism. To say to ourselves: “wait, I am a Christian. I’m not supposed to act like this or to talk like this. I’m supposed to act like Christ! And God gives us the grace to it!
Yes there can be – and needs to be – a righteous anger turned toward injustice and wrong doing – but when it turns to hateful words and violent actions – it ceases to be Christ-like
For Baptism is more than just a symbolic ceremony where we express our faith – it is a life-changing event.
In Baptism, as God does for us in all the Sacraments: God does something for us that we cannot do for ourselves: God gives us a share in the divine life – a share in the power and strength by which Christ overcame sin and darkness and death on the cross.
THIS is the greatest of all Christmas gifts – the gift of salvation – made possible by God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ. The gift that gives us the grace and strength to overcome the power of darkness and evil and death ---- the gift of eternal life!
May that grace of our own Baptism be renewed and strengthened within us – so we know, as Isaiah the prophet told us in the first reading:
that God has grasped us by the hand – and formed us and sent us out to be a light for the nations: to open the eyes of the blind to bring prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness: to make God’s kingdom present by our words and actions.
Moments in time...