Baptism, Our Gift
January 9, 2022 (readings)
- The Baptism of the Lord
- Cathy Stamper
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from Heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Opening Prayer: Lord, fill my heart with expectation. Fill me with joyful anticipation of your peace, love, and mercy. May I gratefully remember the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to me: Understanding, Knowledge, Fortitude, Counsel, Wisdom, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. Continue to work in my heart, bringing me closer to you.
Not Worthy: John the Baptist, a great saint, and man of God, realized that he was truly not worthy to loosen the thong of Jesus’ sandals—a lowly task performed by a servant. We see this in all of the saints: this instinctive knowledge that no matter what we accomplish or how holy we become, we can never be worthy of Christ’s love. Although we are exhorted to be “made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), we can take comfort in knowing that “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
The Holy Spirit and Fire: John’s words were a foretelling of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would descend in tongues of fire, inspiring the frightened and bereaved apostles to leave their hiding place and go out and preach the Good News. One of the single greatest proofs that Jesus is the Messiah is the story of Pentecost. The followers of Jesus were in fear for their own lives after seeing their beloved Rabbi brutally executed. They were in hiding, convinced that the soldiers would finish them off if they were found. Yet something happened in their hiding place that transformed these fugitives into bold proclaimers of the Good News. There is no human explanation for this. It could only be the power of God Almighty that compelled this group of men from a poor, occupied country to become the fearless leaders of the greatest religious movement the world has ever known.
The Gift of Baptism: In his public ministry, Jesus often made choices that illuminated a path for his followers. His decision to be baptized points to the beauty and necessity of our own Baptism. The fact that the man baptizing him claimed to be unworthy reminds us that none of us, whether priest or laity, is worthy. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our faith is in God, not in his sometimes imperfect messengers. In C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters, he depicted a senior devil advising his protegee that the best time to distract a Christian is when he is at worship. He advised the junior devil to fill the mind of the Christian with judgmental thoughts about the priest and his fellow worshippers. Truly, the enemy of our souls would love to pull us away from the need for Baptism and the other sacraments by distracting us with negative thoughts about a particular priest or the Church in general. But Jesus powerfully reminds us by his own Baptism to keep our eyes on God and his gifts of the sacraments. Here in Scripture, we see the first sacrament–Baptism–administered to the Lord by a man who acknowledged his own unworthiness. And the importance of this moment was reinforced by an audible voice from heaven proclaiming, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Conversation with Christ: Lord, quiet my heart. I thank you for this time with you. I know that all you did during your time on earth was done with purpose. Teach me to gratefully embrace and seek out the sacraments. Help me keep my focus on you.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will take advantage of your promptings to receive the sacraments, whether it is to attend daily Mass, to sit in Adoration, or to go to Reconciliation.
For Further Reflection: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
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