Monday, January 9, 2012

Baptism of the Lord

In the Old Testament, we read about God's mighty works and the words he spoke through the prophets. God spoke face to face with Adam and Eve, called Abraham to be the father of his people and gave the ten commandments through Moses. The people of Israel witnessed God's power as he led them out of slavery in Egypt. It is in the Old Testament that God, the Father, reveals his tender love for his people and his desire to save them.

In the New Testament, we witness something altogether different. God the Father remains silent throughout most of the gospels. In fact, there is only one time we hear the Father's voice. It is in today's gospel, at Jesus' baptism.

As Jesus emerges from the waters of the Jordan River a booming voice from heaven is heard: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." God the Father uses the opportunity of Jesus' baptism to let the whole world know that this is his Son, his beloved. But from here on, God the Father will remain silent. It will be Jesus who now speaks for him and performs mighty deeds in his name. With his baptism at the hands of John the Baptist, the torch is handed on to Jesus.

Before this time, Jesus lived an ordinary life among the people. No one besides Mary and Joseph knew his secret that he was the Son of God. But upon his baptism, Jesus begins to proclaim the kingdom of God with an authority that no other man had ever claimed for himself. It was clear to all who heard him that Jesus was no ordinary rabbi. John the Baptist even recognized this when he claimed that one was coming who was even mightier than he. No one had ever seen anyone like Jesus of Nazareth before.

Where did this power to teach with authority and to perform miracles come from? It came from the Holy Spirit.

The word "Messiah" means "anointed one." According to the Old Testament, the Messiah would be anointed by God with the Holy Spirit to save his people. The prophet Isaiah says of the Messiah: "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit." The gospel tells us that it was the Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus like a dove as he was baptized. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus the Messiah to touch hearts, to free those held in bondage and to speak the truth with conviction and courage.

Now that Jesus Christ has risen and ascended to heaven, we are living in a different time. Just as God the Father remained silent throughout much of the New Testament, Jesus the Son is silent now. He does not appear from heaven to speak to us directly. He does not show up at hospitals to cure the sick or at the scene of accidents to raise the dead. As God the Father passed the torch on to Jesus, Jesus has now passed the torch on to us! It is now up to us to witness to God's love.

And so, if our family members have questions about their faith, how else will they learn the truth unless we witness to it? If our classmates are being picked on, how else will they learn about Jesus' love unless we stick up for them? If a beggar is hungry, how else will she eat unless we feed her? Jesus wants every confused person to know the truth, every suffering person to be comforted and every lonely person to have a friend. But he will not rip open the heavens and come down in a fiery chariot to do it. He will use us.

How can Jesus expect us to speak the truth with courage and perform heroic deeds in his name? Because he has anointed us with the gift of the Holy Spirit!

At our baptism, each of us received the same Holy Spirit which lived and worked through Jesus. The same Holy Spirit who empowered him to teach with authority and to perform miracles lives in our hearts through baptism and through faith. We have within us the same Holy Spirit who compelled the apostles to give testimony to the Messiah with their words and the martyrs to bear witness through their blood. We have exactly the same tool that Jesus and every saint throughout the ages has had to live the Christian life with power and confidence. Not only has the torch been passed on, but the power to hold that torch up high and carry it proudly has been given us through the Holy Spirit.

Having the Holy Spirit at work in our lives is like having a billionaire give us a credit card. With it, we can buy things we could otherwise never be able to afford. Just so, with the Holy Spirit we have the strength of God within us which enables us to performs acts of generosity and courage we could never have dreamed of doing on our own. Because of our baptism, we have been made daughters and sons of God and now have access to that great power at work in us who believe.

When someone wins a million dollars, the first thing people ask is, "What do you plan to do with your money?" As we reflect on the gift of the Holy Spirit we have received, we should ask ourselves the same question, "What do we plan to do with the power of God at work in us?"

(image by Dave Zelenka)

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