It’s hard to believe that we are already into the season of Advent. We can all agree that time flies too quickly, and each year just seems to go by more quickly. Advent is the beginning of our new liturgical year, and fittingly so as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas.
This Sunday concludes our reflections on the sacrament of baptism. I wanted to dive into a very special baptism that can be found in our gospels – the baptism of Jesus himself. This baptism was the beginning of his public ministry, when it was manifested to the world that he was the Son of God. Let’s take a look at Matthew 3:13-17: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed him. After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”
The baptism of Jesus has baffled many throughout the centuries, first of all John the Baptist himself! John states the obvious when he says that it should be the other way around, with Jesus baptizing him, and he’s right! At the time of Jesus, before baptism was a sacrament of the New Covenant, the Jews had many ritual washings as part of their religious practice. Ritual washings were used to regain ritual purity as the body experienced things that were “unclean.” This is a somewhat hard concept for us to grasp, because unclean did not necessarily mean immoral or sinful. For example, after a woman gave birth, she was considered unclean for several weeks, although there was clearly no sin involved in having a baby! Similarly, soldiers would undergo a ritual washing after battle, and priests would undergo a washing before offering sacrifice. We can see how Jesus used the Jewish concept of ritual washing as a foundation for his institution of the sacrament of baptism.
John was baptizing people in the Jordan in response to his call to conversion. He apparently had a successful following of people who understood the need for repentance and expressed this through the reception of a baptism in the river. Jesus had no need for this, which both he and John both recognized. However, we understand that Jesus was baptized for our sake. Jesus said that it is fitting for him to be baptized. In doing so, he sets the model for all of us and undergoes the same treatment as everyone else. This follows the pattern of Jesus always offering himself for our sake.
Jesus’ baptism was a sort of reversal of roles. Typically, the water is clean and would wash the body of the unclean person. However, with Jesus it was opposite. Since Jesus is God himself and the source of all holiness, when he was baptized, he in turn sanctified the waters for our baptism. In Jesus’ baptism, he was revealed to the world as the Son of God, when God the Father spoke from the heavens saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God the Father spoke the same words to us in each of our baptisms, and what a beautiful beginning we each had! May our Advent season be filled with the graces of our baptism as we prepare to once again receive the Son of God into our hearts.