We close the Christmas season with Christ’s baptism in the river Jordan by John (i.e., the baptism of our Lord). This is the third Epiphany of the Christmas season and the last time we will hear ‘We Three Kings’ for 11 months.
This completes the theophany.
Scripturally, when Christ was baptized, the voice of the Father thundered and the Holy Spirit was present. This was the first Trinitarian baptism, which would ultimately begin Christ’s public ministry.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 2:13-17)
Christ institutes the sacrament of Baptism before his public ministry. We can imagine John fully immersing Christ into the river and then upon being symbolically cleansed, the Holy Spirit and God (‘Spirit of God like a Dove’) came to complete the first Trinitarian nature of the baptism. Since Christ was free of sin, this instituted the Trinitarian formula in our baptism. As we go forth to make disciples, we continue to this day to baptize in this same Trinitarian formula.
But why would he, who was without sin, choose to be baptized?
- To show solidarity with those with sin. Christ opened with his baptism the second parts of the Trinity, namely, the Father and the Holy Spirit. Christ being blessed by the Jordan’s water in turned blessed the water itself and now all could be baptized in Triune fashion.
- There is also the time: Just before his ministry. Does not someone going off on a long trip spend much time preparing? Physically, spiritually, mentally? To arm one’s self with the Holy Trinity for such a task as conversion and salvation of souls could benefit from a sacramental rite of passage.
- The relationship of John, who always refers to Christ as ‘one mightier than I’ exemplifies all our early relationships, that of equalizing. May we all be servants to one another. Later, in Holy week, Christ very specifically gives us this command once more.
So there’s the Christmas season. Born in a manger, angels and shepherds singing everywhere, kings coming to visit, and the child being presented in the temple. We blink, and now he’s 30 years old being baptized, about ready to spend the most influential 3 years in the history of humanity.
What is the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord? It’s the starting line where human history was forever changed.