Today is the last Sunday of the Christmas season that closes with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. But that does not mean we stop celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ. In fact, this feast of His baptism reminds us of the great importance of praying daily to celebrate His coming the whole year through.
The people were filled with expectation… After all the people had been baptized and Jesus had also 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” (Lk.3:15, 21-22).
One thing we shall notice this year when St. Luke guides us in our gospel every Sunday is how he always presents Jesus Christ at prayer like here at His baptism. Only St. Luke records this detail that Jesus was praying after His baptism when the “heaven was opened.” That is the meaning of Christmas, the opening of heaven for us through Christ’s coming after it was closed when Adam and Eve were banished following their Fall. See how St. Luke situated the Lord’s baptism like his Christmas story to show us that Jesus lived at a specific time and period in history, that He had really come! “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas” (Lk.3:1-2).
The same is very true today in our own time. In this specific period when everything seems to be so dark and in disarray, when we are filled with expectation after a long period when God had seemed forgotten us, suddenly there comes a voice in the wilderness, not in the desert of Jordan but right here inside our hearts of new hope, new beginnings this 2019! Jesus had opened heaven with His coming to us more than 2000 years ago and He continues to call us to come to Him, to be one with Him and be in Him. He is here inside our hearts inviting us to open up with Him, to converse with Him, to speak to Him and to hear Him in the context of prayer. This feast of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us of that invitation from God for us to open up to Him too because He is now more accessible to us than ever in Christ. In becoming human like us in everything except in sin, Jesus brought God nearer to us that we can converse with Him to air our concerns and innermost feelings to Him. Most of all, experience in prayer God’s great love for us when we listen to His voice and heed His calls to discover far more great things in this life than we have ever imagined! Why waste this great grace in Him?
Second reason why we need to handle life with prayer is because it purifies us, cleanses us like the waters of the river. Jesus need not be baptized because He has no sins; but, He chose to be baptized by John to show His solidarity with us sinners. This is the main point of the prophecy by Isaiah in the first reading as well as the letter of St. Paul to Titus: Jesus is the mercy of the Father to us sinners who had come to expiate our sins by taking upon Himself – the sinless one – our sins. It is very sad that fewer people are now praying in the real sense because many of us have lost that sense of sinfulness. Everything has become relative especially morality as if everything is now acceptable and therefore, nothing is sinful. When people refuse to see and accept their sinfulness, when they feel being sinless, then they start acting like God, even claiming to be the Messiah and stop praying altogether. We pray because we are sinful, because we have failed in doing what is right and what is good. We pray to be cleansed of our sinfulness so we can be with Jesus to follow and imitate Him. Real prayer happens when we admit before God our sins to be purified in Him.
Most of all, we have to pray always because life is difficult. After the scene of the baptism of Jesus at Jordan, the next chapter tells us about His temptation by the devil in the wilderness. After the long Christmas vacation, almost everybody had gone back to “reality of life”, of work and studies, of constant struggles and sufferings as well as sacrifices. Jesus came to the world to help us in this life, calling us to come to Him for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. That is the beautiful symbolism of Jesus plunging into Jordan. For the Jewish thought, bodies of water like the sea, the lake and the river are symbols of the nether world, of the powers of darkness and evil. When Jesus plunged into Jordan River and when He walked on water, they both mean the power of Jesus over darkness and sins. That is why we pray to be purified, to be cleansed from our sins. Now, flowing river is symbolic of life in the Old Testament as attested by the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris-Euphrates in Babylonia, and the Jordan in Israel. There is always the danger of losing one’s life in the river especially when it is swollen but at the same time, there is also the abundance of life from its waters that nourish plants and teem with marine life. Jesus choosing to be baptized at Jordan River tells us His coming to us in our lives marked with many dangers as well as with opportunities. In fact, right in His baptism at Jordan, Jesus was already giving us a hint at the inauguration of His ministry about His coming Passion, Death and Resurrection symbolized by the river. We all know this too for sure that great opportunities await us this 2019 but we all know we can attain these all if we are willing to take the plunge and meet head on the many challenges that would entail sacrifices and pains on our part. Life is very much like a river and the good news is Jesus is here with us to help us and assure us of being fruitful if we can open to God in prayer.
Every morning when we wake up, the heavens open with the Father telling us that due to the oneness of Christ with us, we too are His beloved children with whom He is well pleased. Noteworthy in this part how St. Luke inserted after Christ’s baptism his version of the genealogy of Jesus, starting it backwards to end up with Adam, “the son of God” (Lk.3:38). Aside from showing us the humanity of Jesus, St. Luke fittingly closed his baptism account of reminding us how in the Lord we have become God’s children too. And that is enough reason for us to always pray not only because God converses with us and we need to be purified of our sins but most of all because we are the children of the Father in Christ Jesus. With that in our minds and in our hearts, 2019 looks so promising indeed! AMEN. Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
*Photos from Google.