Sunday, Jan. 10, is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Year C).
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalms 29:1-4, 3, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
This Sunday we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus — and then the Church hits a pause button. It’s our job to fill in the pause.
We know what happens immediately after John baptizes Jesus: The Lord is led by the Spirit into the desert to fast and be tempted by the devil. But the Church will continue with readings from Luke, skipping over that passage temporarily, because that is the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent.
Instead, in this one month of Ordinary Time that we have before an early Lent, we will see various ways Jesus proclaims his divinity: by turning water into wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana, announcing at the synagogue that he is the Messiah and by calling the Twelve Apostles through a miraculous catch of fish.
Notice what the Church is doing: We get excited about Jesus at Christmastime as the season turns toward winter, and then we commit our time to him in Lent as the winter starts to drag to an end. The Church spends the time in between reminding us that the adult Jesus is just as delightful and intriguing as the Baby Jesus.
The first reading from Isaiah sets the stage in its description of the Messiah: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement and from the dungeon those who live in darkness.”
This is the man the Baby Jesus becomes: a Savior who can release us from the darkness we are mired in.
St. Peter sums him up, in the second reading from Acts, as “Lord of all,” saying, “He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”
The brief Gospel is Luke’s version of the baptism. For a passage of few words, it says a lot: “The people were filled with expectation.”
That is where we are as the Christmas season ends: filled with expectation of great things from the Lord.
Then the Gospel quotes John saying that the Lord will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
The echoes of this promise ring through the other readings today. We know from Isaiah that he will release us from the blindness of moral confusion, the prison of enslavement to sin and the dungeon of selfishness that keeps us pinned down.
Then, after Jesus is baptized, the Gospel describes how the Holy Spirit descends upon him and a voice says, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
We know from the Psalm that this voice over the river is the fulfillment of an ancient image of the God of glory, enthroned above the flood with cries of glory that sound like thunder.
“Christmas magic” may be over, but the strong, subtle, sustained glory of Jesus Christ is not. Far from it. He is only getting started.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.