Sunday, January 10, 2010


It is wrong to see the Baptism of Jesus as a mere "gesture of humility" . . . you know, "'he was like us in all things except sin,' but he would nonetheless take on the mantle of a sinner, in order to identify with us."

Baptism at the hands of St John the Baptist is the opening scene of Jesus' public ministry. The Father calls out from heaven, "This is my beloved Son."

We have here a THEOPHANY, a Manifestation, a revelation of Jesus as God. Sealing this as a Trinitarian moment, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. The sacred humanity of Jesus is "anointed" by the Holy Spirit (see today's second reading), and in in the power of that anointing Jesus went about healing all who were "oppressed by the devil."

The same anointing flows from Jesus, the Head, over the members of his Body, the Church, so that his loving, caring, healing ministry may continue to reach those around us in deepest need. Are you open to being filled afresh with the Holy Spirit? Now, that's something to think about at the start of 2010!

Look at how Luke recounts the Lord's baptism: "And when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying . . ."

That reference to Jesus praying is quite typical of Luke, who shows us how Jesus prayed at every key moment of his life and mninistry. But look also at this: suddenly, "the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove."

Then God the Father speaks to Jesus (and we are allowed to overhear), "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

This amazing Trinitarian picture is something of a lens through which Luke intends us to read the rest of his Gospel on most Sundays of this liturgical year).

St Hippolytus (c.170 - 236)

That Jesus should come and be baptized by John is surely cause for amazement. To think of the infinite river that gladdens the city of God being bathed in a poor little stream of the eternal, the unfathomable fountainhead that gives life to all men being immersed in the shallow waters of this transient world!

He who fills all creation, leaving no place devoid of his presence, he who is incomprehensible to the angels and hidden from the sight of man, came to be baptized because it was his will. And behold, the heavens opened and a voice said: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."

The beloved Father begets love, and spiritual light generates light inaccessible. In his divine nature he is my only Son, though he was known as the son of Joseph. This is my beloved Son. Though hungry himself, he feeds thousands; though weary, he refreshes those who labor. He has no place to lay his head yet holds all creation in his hand. By his passion [inflicted on him by others], he frees us from the passions [unleashed by our disobedience]; by receiving a blow on the cheek he gives the world its liberty; by being pierced in the side he heals the wound of Adam.

I ask you now to pay close attention, for I want to return to that fountain of life and contemplate its healing waters at their source.

The Father of immortality sent his immortal Son and Word into the world; he came to us men to cleanse us with water and the Spirit. To give us a new birth that would make our bodies and souls immortal, he breathed into us the spirit of life and armed us with incorruptibility. Now if we become immortal, we shall also be divine; and if we become divine after rebirth in baptism through water and the Holy Spirit, we shall also be coheirs with Christ after the resurrection of the dead.

Therefore, in a herald's voice I cry: Let peoples of every nation come and receive the immortality that flows from baptism. This is the water that is linked to the Spirit, the water that irrigates Paradise, makes the earth fertile, gives growth to plants, and brings forth living creatures. In short, this is the water by which a man receives new birth and life, the water in which even Christ was baptized, the water into which the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.

Whoever goes down into these waters of rebirth with faith renounces the devil and pledges himself to Christ. He repudiates the enemy and confesses that Christ is God, throws off his servitude, and is raided to filial status. He comes up from baptism resplendent as the sun, radiant in his purity, but above all, he comes as a son of God and a coheir with Christ. To him and to his most holy and life-giving Spirit be glory and power now and for ever. Amen.

This is part of a sermon on the Epiphany by St Hippolytus
(nn. 2.6-8 10: PG 10, 854. 858-859. 862)


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