Masterpiece Wk 2: New Creation
Masterpiece Week 2: New Creation
The Baptism of the Lord
9 January 2022
This is the second week of our message series Masterpiece. Jesus is God’s self-portrait. Jesus puts skin on God. He makes the invisible God visible to us by becoming human and taking on our flesh. In that way, God manifests himself, or shows us himself revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. And also, in that way, makes us aware that we are God’s masterpiece.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ. So just a week ago, we celebrated the wise men’s search to find God. And they did find him, as a child, probably still a baby. This week our readings flash forward to Jesus as an adult. It seems like we miss a lot, and we do because there are very few words spoken about Jesus during those 30 years.
The Advent Season, as you remember, always features John the Baptist at the Jordan calling us to conversion, to make straight the paths for Christ to come to us. The Christmas season finishes with the feast of the Lord’s baptism, in which Jesus, at the end of his hidden life, brings to fulfillment what John was prophesying by his deeds. John had foretold Jesus’ eventual coming, promising, as we heard in the Gospel, “One mightier than I is coming after me. … I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And so it happened that at the end of decades of hidden life, Jesus’ full identity was revealed at the Jordan when the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God the Father spoke from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased!” There, Jesus received a baptism and another baptism — and more significant and efficacious one — was announced.
The baptism Jesus received from John — like all of the other baptisms John was doing — was merely a sign of repentance as Jesus, who came to the world to take away the sins of the world, foreshadowed in the waters of the Jordan what he would later accomplish in the baptism of blood on Calvary. This is the baptism Jesus inaugurated at the Jordan, when he by his own baptism made the waters of baptism capable of delivering on what they signified: not just representing the need for the forgiveness of sins, but actually forgiving those sins and making us a new creation, a masterpiece of the Father. This is the baptism that Jesus, in his missionary address immediately before ascending into heaven, gave as his “great commission” to the disciples, whom he entrusted with the completion of his own salvific mission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”.
Countless generations before us put those words into action and eventually each one of us was brought to that saving stream of life-giving water, where Christ, through a minister, cleansed us of our sins and filled us with God’s own life. On the day of our baptism, God claimed us as his own; we were made members of Christ’s own body as we entered into his death and own risen life; the Holy Spirit came down upon us and made us each a “temple of the Holy Spirit”; God the Father lovingly adopted us as his beloved children and inaudibly but truly said of us what he said of Christ, “You are my beloved son, you are my much-loved daughter, with whom I am well-pleased.”
The key for us, though, is not to forget who we truly are. Pope St. Leo the Great, in his 5th-century homily for the Christmas season that comes to a close on Sunday, exhorts us to live up to the identity we receive in baptism. St. Leo urges us: “Christian, remember your dignity! Now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom. Through the Sacrament of Baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.”
To remember that baptismal dignity and to live in accord with it constitute the chief task of the Christian life. We are called to live consciously as beloved children of God, summoned to live that new life in loving communion with God and others, behaving in the world in such a way that others may witness the difference baptism makes as they see “[our] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven”. To remember our dignity is, to some degree, to remember our baptism and that presents somewhat of a problem for most of us who were baptized before we were capable of having a memory at all. That is one reason why the Church places holy water fonts at the entrance of the Church, so that as we enter the Church, the first thing we do is to recall the saving waters of baptism, the waters that made us holy sons and daughters of God. To remember our baptismal dignity is also the reason why the Church, at least every Easter has us renew the baptismal promises either we, or our parents and godparents for us, made on the day of our baptism.
But if the day of our baptism is really the most important day of our life — and it is! — then we should act like it is. That begins with celebrating the anniversary of our baptism every year. And I challenge you to do just that.
Do you remember your baptismal date? For many of us, we may not know. It is just as important as your birthday, because it is the day you were reborn through the power of the Holy Spirit. It was that day that God’s work of making you his masterpiece truly began. It is the day he called you to share in His mission as our creator and redeemer. Each and every person here is called into that work of living out the Christian faith and sharing that with the world, making disciples of all we come in contact with.
On the day of our baptism we receive the baptismal garment, we’re instructed to “see in this white garment the outward sign of [our] Christian dignity” and to “take that dignity unstained into everlasting life.” Is it still clean or do we need to dry clean it in the Sacrament of Penance?
On that day, we received our baptismal candle and were instructed to “walk always as a child of the light,” with “the flame of faith alive in [our] hearts.” We can ask, How are we doing? Are we on fire with love for God? If not, God wants to reignite us. If so, God wants to turn it into a bonfire.
On that day, God pronounced himself well-pleased in. May God revivify in us the graces of the most important day of our life so that every day may be a day of baptized grace as we are made into the masterpiece he created us to be as his beloved sons and daughters.