We began the Christmas Season on the Eve of December 25 by reflecting on the Incarnation – God manifesting himself to Jewish shepherds as a child lying in a manger in a messy stable. On the Feast of the Holy Family, we explored the mystery of a 12 year old child who is the Son of God needing the nurturing of a human family. On New Year’s Day, we pondered all of these things in our heart, imitating Mary, the Mother of God. Last Sunday, we celebrated the Epiphany, pointing out that the child was manifested for all people, and not just a select group of individuals. We end the Christmas Season today by reflecting on the manifestation of the Son of God, now an adult, in his Baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.
Saint Luke does not describe the baptism of Jesus in that River. After making the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist clear, he describes the descending of the Holy Spirit in bodily form like a dove after Jesus had emerged from the waters of the Jordan River. Earlier in his Gospel, Saint Luke details the coming of the Holy Spirit on Mary, the humble virgin of Nazareth, as the eternal Word takes flesh in her womb. That same Holy Spirit now empowers Jesus to begin his ministry in earnest. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus will spend the next three years preaching the Kingdom of God and inviting everyone to embrace the Kingdom and become part of it.
This last Feast of the Christmas Season serves as a wonderful transition to the next great Christian Feast of Easter, when we celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord. As soon as Jesus ascends into heaven and returns to the right hand of his Father, Saint Luke begins a new volume in the Acts of the Apostles in which the Holy Spirit descends upon the earliest followers of Jesus. Empowered by that same Spirit, the Church now preaches Jesus. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter has the courage to reach outside the comfort zone of his closely knit Jewish community to welcome a Gentile, Cornelius, and to share the Eucharist with him and join him for meals at table.
When we will gather as a community at the Easter Vigil, the Holy Spirit will come upon the newly baptized and newly received members of the Church. During the Easter season, many young people around our diocese will be given the Holy Spirit through the same Sacrament of Confirmation.
Today’s feast invites us to reflect on the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we too are empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to preach Jesus through the way we live our lives. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can confidently preach Jesus and model the values of the Kingdom of God by the ways in which we recognize Christ manifesting himself to us in our daily lives and inviting others to recognize that presence in theirs.
John baptized with water. He calls us to repentance and to change our hearts. Jesus continues to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit provides strength, power, and needed stamina for the task. The fire of God’s love purifies us and draws us closer together. Filled with the insights we have gained through this Christmas Season about the ways in which the Incarnate Word continues to dwell with us, we walk confidently back into Ordinary Time tomorrow to cooperate with the Holy Spirit given to us at Baptism and Confirmation.