Baptism of the Lord
LK 3:15-16, 21-22
January 10, 2016
If you are fortunate enough to visit the great cathedrals of Italy, which all tourists typically do, Christian or non-Christian, make certain that you don’t miss the baptisteries. Our ancestors in faith, who somehow managed to erect these amazing architectural wonders without the benefit of modern-day tools, equipment, and machinery, often included in the sacred space they set apart in honor of God a second smaller, yet still grandiose, structure. The adjacent building complements the main worship space in every way except purpose. The singular purpose of the baptistery is clear from the name. At the appointed time during the celebration of the Easter Vigil, the faithful gathered in the cathedral celebrating Christ’s Resurrection would process into the baptistery to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation. Church historians tell us that in honor of those becoming part of the Body of Christ, the baptistery would be transformed into a beautiful garden, filled with flowers and trees and vines. The environment was intended to remind those celebrating Easter that Jesus Christ was the New Adam, Who has won back for us the right to once again dwell in Paradise.
However, by pairing the drama of Jesus’s Baptism in the Jordan with Isaiah 42, the Church points to yet another meaning of “Baptism.” Moses led the people to the banks of the Red Sea. The waters parted and the people fleeing from slavery in Egypt passed through unharmed to begin their journey to the Promised Land. Jesus, the New Moses, leads us to the waters in which He allowed Himself to be submerged. Upon rising, The Lord was introduced as the Son of God. Jesus, the New Moses, then began to lead those who shared in His Baptism toward the Kingdom of God. Just as Israel passed through the “birth canal” of the Red Sea, entering as a slave nation, and reborn as a free people….so too in Baptism, we are reborn. We are no longer enslaved by sin and death, and begin our pilgrim journey to the promised land.
Our ancestors in faith fully understood that Baptism is not simply an initiation into an organization, but a sharing in the Story of Salvation. They remembered and celebrated the cosmic significance of Jesus’s Baptism by building elaborate structures without the benefit of modern-day tools, equipment, and machinery, in honor of the New Beginning that all humanity was given on that day. But they did more than build buildings. They continued the work that began as the heavens parted, and a Voice expressed Divine pleasure in Jesus. They continued to build the City of God.
And the work continues. We, who have been baptized in Christ…redeemed by The New Adam…led by The New Moses through the waters to escape slavery to sin and death…reborn in the Spirit…are called upon to continue to build the City of God. Even as our ancestors in faith set aside a special place to honor God and built special buildings as testimony to the significance of Baptism, we are called to set aside our lives and to live them in a way that complements The Life of Christ. We are living baptisteries that stand next to Christ, in Whom God is well pleased. And all who look upon us…even those who are not Christians, should marvel at our beauty. As we begin this new year, resolve to continue the work. You have been given the special tools, equipment, and machinery which it takes to make your life a spiritual architectural wonder. It was all given to you in the Spirit-filled waters you passed through. Use what was given to you…and someday, you will hear a heavenly Voice introduce you as a “beloved child in whom God is well pleased!”