The Baptism of the Lord

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Kevin M. DePrinzio, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Acts 10:34-38
Mt 3:13-17

The New Year always brings fascinating rituals, rituals we do not question. Balls dropping. Pots and Pans banging. Whistles blowing. Mummers strutting (at least in Philadelphia; the rest of the world may still question that!). All of this is very normal to us. However, one thing I don’t think I’ll ever accept as normal are polar bears plunging! The “polar bear plunge” is a ritual on New Year’s Day and sometimes throughout the month of January, when crazed groups of individuals drop to their bathing suits and jump into the frigid Ocean. Obviously, it wouldn’t be too drastic of an event if we lived in a part of the country or world where it’s not our type of winter. I cannot imagine ever being convinced to do it. I’m bad enough in the summer on the beach, dipping my toe in, then my foot, then ankle, before I go “all in” and take the plunge.

Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is about taking the plunge, Jesus’ own taking the plunge into the Jordan River. We hear in the Gospel John the Baptist’s initial resistance to baptizing Jesus. The baptism of Jesus by John is not the same as the baptism in which we have participated. Jesus’ baptism was an acceptance of John’s preaching as well as a sign that Jesus was ready to begin his mission. In other words, he was taking the plunge into his own identity as God’s Beloved.

And at that moment, Jesus’ ministry begins, the ministry about which Isaiah speaks in the first reading: being a light to the nations, giving sight to the blind, setting prisoners free, because he is wholeheartedly in touch with his Abba, completely focused on his relationship with God the Father. When Jesus enters into the River Jordan, he plunges himself into his mission and ministry; he plunges himself into the Life for which he was born. And when he rises out of that water, that Voice is heard from beyond the clouds, “You are my Beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.”

And Jesus continues to take the plunge of life. He doesn’t test the waters of life, he doesn’t just dip his toe or his foot in slowly; instead, he goes “all in,” and stays “all in,” and that gets him into trouble. When he sees a need he fills it; when he interacts with a sinner, he heals that person; when he encounters injustice, he names it – all of those characteristics Isaiah and Acts speak of in our readings. He shows no partiality.

This Feast of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us that we have been baptized into this same mission of Jesus. Our own baptism has plunged us into the Life and Spirit of Christ as members of his Body. Admittedly, we’re not always good at continuing to take the plunge of Christ. We get scared at times to put ourselves wholeheartedly into something. We have fears that the waters of the world are too cold and harsh, and so we resist. We don’t always trust the promise of our God to be with us in every moment of our lives, no matter the moment. And we fear that we are unworthy or unfit to “go all in” and be the person and people God calls us to be. Or we fear being seen as crazy, for even being part of the Church.

Yet, we all know of those moments when we did take a plunge, those moments of intense grace, of deeply knowing I’m doing the right thing with my life, moments when it is as if clouds open up and we hear a Voice say, “You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.” These are moments that help us in our uncertainty, those times when we are struggling with who we are, times of difficulty in our relationships with one another, with spouses, family members, friends, to continue to trust that God will be there when we take the plunge.

My sisters and brothers, as we transition from the Christmas Season back into Ordinary Time, let us together, as the Church, go all in, not as crazed individuals, though for some we may still look crazy, but as people with a mission and on a mission, the mission of Jesus. May the Eucharist we share give us the energy and strength to do so.