Question: Is it not more accurate to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the…
Opening the Word: Sonship of the Son
Jesus undertakes a baptism for the repentance of sin. Likely, this gives us pause. Jesus Christ is supposed to be the sinless one. Why would he receive baptism? What is to be forgiven? The early Church asked these exact questions. Professing Jesus as the God-man, they knew that Jesus didn’t need forgiveness.
Thus, our forebears saw in Jesus’ baptism the sanctification of all water for the sake of our baptism. Entering into the chaos of the waters, Jesus quells this chaos: “The waters saw you, God; the waters saw you and lashed about, even the deeps of the sea trembled” (Ps 77:17).
Now when we descend into the waters of baptism, we find Christ there. Dying to sin and death, we rise with Christ to new life. The blessed waters become a source of healing for us. But how? How does Christ’s descent into the waters save us? Here, we must pick up on another thread from Jesus’ baptism. Although Jesus is the sinless one, although he has no need of forgiveness, he casts his lot with sinners.
|The Baptism of the Lord – Jan. 13, 2019th|
IS 42:1-4, 6-7
OR IS 40:1-5, 9-11
PS 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
OR PS 104:1B-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30
OR TI 2:11-14; 3:4-7
LK 3:15-16, 21-22
Entering into the desert, he finds John the Baptist preaching a baptism of repentance. His listeners signify the conversion of Israel, the reorientation to the coming kingdom of God, through a ritual washing. Those who participate in this ritual washing do not imagine themselves as isolated monads, individuals whose sins affect them alone. They’re sons and daughters of Israel, aware that God has chosen to bring together a people.
And through this ritual cleansing, the disciples of John the Baptist signify not just their own purification but Israel’s too. It is all of Israel, and eventually all the nations, that must be saved.
So Jesus descends into the waters. He casts his lot with Israel. He identifies with the sinners of Israel, who can’t keep the law. And he takes upon himself Israel’s sins.
But, Jesus is no normal son of Israel. From the heavens, we hear from the voice of the Father that Jesus is the beloved son. He is God’s chosen king, the one anointed by the Father.
He is true God and true man.
And now, we’re getting somewhere. For the one who takes on himself the sins of Israel, who is identified as just another sinner, is the Messiah — the one chosen by God to quell the chaos of sin and death.
He is the Son.
And the good news of Christmas — of which the Baptism of the Lord is the final feast — is that because the Son has taken on what it means to be human, we humans can now become beloved sons and daughters. We are adopted by the Father, sharing in the sonship of the beloved Son.
And that’s why we find our salvation in the waters of baptism. Descending into the waters, we put on Jesus Christ. We are anointed with oil, becoming anointed ones. We become christs, anointed sons and daughters of the Father.
This is the mystery of Christmas that we must live all year long. We are not to be servants of the powers of this age. We are not children of the darkness. We must become what we are: sons and daughters of the light. Thus like Christ, we have been chosen by God. We have become servants of the Father.
In the coming months, as we prepare to commemorate the death and resurrection of the beloved Son, we’ll learn exactly what this means.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.