Opening the Word: Beloved, come

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Baptism of Our Lord
Baptism of the Lord, altarpiece in Saint John the Baptist church in Zagreb, Croatia. Shutterstock

Timothy P O'MalleyJohn, who is the last prophet, the one who initiates a baptism of repentance, baptizes Jesus Christ. The yearly commemoration of this feast at the conclusion of Christmastide likely causes us to pass over the scandal of this moment.

The Word made flesh, the splendor of the Father, is baptized with a baptism of repentance.

In this act, Our Lord places himself in the space of a sinner. He identifies with the people of Israel, who are called to return to the Lord their God.

And yet, as the Gospel of Mark remembers at this moment of apparent weakness, Jesus is proclaimed as the beloved Son of the Father. We are told to listen to him, to the one proclaimed as Lord in the hidden silence of the desert.

January 10 – The Baptism of the Lord
Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 9-10
Acts 10:34-38
Mk 1:7-11

In his baptism, Our Lord speaks not with words but in deed. Catholic Tradition sees in Jesus’ baptism a type or image of the baptism that is to come for all of us.

What is the meaning of this baptism? Yes, we are cleansed of original sin. But we are also made adopted sons and daughters of God.

This adoption is no abstraction because Our Lord Jesus Christ does not traffic in pious principles or pleasant thoughts. As the first letter to John proclaims, “This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood” (1 Jn 5:6).

Christ entered the world through water and blood. Water is purity, an icon of divine life. And yet, blood is an image of the body. Jesus Christ does not come presenting divine life abstracted from the rest of human life. He comes in both water and blood, as divine and human.

As he descends into the waters of baptism, he gives his flesh and blood over to a divine project. The time for Israel’s conversion is at hand. It is the conversion that will lead him to the cross, to the death of the beloved Son who spills water and blood from his side. It will culminate in the resurrection of the beloved Son, who does not leave behind his humanity but presents it as a fragrant offering to the Father.

Baptism, for us, is immersion into the water and blood of the Son. Yes, we are given divine life, we are bestowed grace. But never apart from the flesh and blood existence to which we are called as men and women.

This is why we celebrate Christ’s baptism in the Christmas season. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (cf. Jn 1:14). Redemption now takes place not through escaping the body, ascending above materiality, but through it.

After all, that’s the nature of the sacraments. Christ’s Incarnation continues here and now. We are saved not because we think about it.

No! We are saved because our bodies are baptized into Christ Our Lord. We eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. The sick and dying are anointed with the oil of salvation. The married couple, who pledge their bodies to one another, become an efficacious sign of Christ’s love for the Church.

And this means that the Incarnation changes what it means to be flesh and blood.

Christmas is such good news, such a time of joy, because it is the feast in which men and women are invited to remember that God has saved men and women not apart from, not exclusive of, but through flesh and blood.

Beloved, let us come to the waters, flesh and blood that we are.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has reported from the Vatican since the founding of its Rome bureau in 1950.