The Baptism of the Lord – January 13, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 104; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
Today, the Christmas season finally comes to a close. With the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrate today, we get the final piece of the puzzle. From Advent to Christmas to the Holy Family to Epiphany—all of these feasts have been trying to help us to engage the importance of the Incarnation, the importance of God-made-Man.
And today, today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord: Jesus’ baptism in the desert by John the Baptist. And we do this for a very simple reason: in his baptism in the Jordan, it is made clear that in the Incarnation Jesus entered into the depths of the human condition. God did not become man to spend time with us, to see what it’s like to be a human. No, God became man, Jesus came to enter into the very depths of our human condition; and he entered the depths so as to draw all of it, our entire humanity, into God’s own divine life, to give us the fullness of life.
Now, I know these are nice words, very beautiful. But we can glance over them, not realizing how important they really are. We can hear them, but forget why they are so important. We can forget that we are not just here on earth, and God is up in heaven, and then one day he decided to come down to earth to hang-out with us. No, he comes like the shepherd we hear about in our first reading; he comes because we are in such great need and he has pledged to take care of us, to never abandon us. And so, when we are oblivious to our need, when we ignore the fact that we need him, when we don’t realize our need—well then, yeah, all of this seems a little strange. And so we have to overcome our ignorance, we have to understand what our condition is, why God felt the need to become man, why this matters.
One of the easiest things to do in life is to just give up and become narcissistic and nihilistic. That’s easy. These are two of the easiest options. With narcissism, life is all about me, other people don’t matter, “self-love is the best love.” With nihilism, life doesn’t matter, everyone who believes in something has been fooled and is gullible, there is no purpose to anything. Narcissism and nihilism: these are easy. When things get tough, the easiest answers are narcism and nihilism.
This is what we see over and over again with the people of Israel. The Lord would take care of them—for example lead them out of slavery in Egypt—but then again, slowly but surely, the people would slip into narcissism and nihilism. They would start to think only about themselves, they would start to believe that nothing had meaning. But when they finally hit rock-bottom, when they finally go far enough into their own misery, their own rebellion, when they finally experience the effects of their narcissism and nihilism—then, then they are finally ready to receive the Lord into their life once again.
In our first reading from Isaiah, this is where they are at. The people hit bottom, they had been carried off into exile into the land of Babylon. And there, when everything had finally been taken away, sitting in the misery brought about by their own rebellion, there in Babylon, they are finally ready to receive the Lord once again. They begin crying out to the Lord to have mercy on them, to rescue them from their misery. They know that there must be something better than the situation they are in. And so instead of wallowing in their misery, they cry out for help.
Now, based on our own experience, we would expect the Lord to rub it in their face, to make them work for it. When someone hurts you, when someone does something terrible to you, and they finally apologize, we can easily punish them for it, make them work for forgiveness. We can say, “I’ll forgive you, but first I’m going to make you suffer for what you’ve done.” And this is just pure narcissism at work.
But with the Lord, with the Lord it is different. Our first reading doesn’t start with, “Be afraid! Be afraid because first I have to punish you.” No, the reading starts with, “Comfort! Give comfort to my people! Your time of servitude to the misery of your own sin is over.” And just like that, the Lord rescues his people once again. Why? Well, “not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). The people of Israel didn’t deserve it. We don’t deserve it.
The Lord has loved us “with an everlasting love” and he has “had pity on our nothingness,” on our pettiness (Jeremiah 31:3). The Lord was moved by our nothingness; he took pity on our nothingness. And even more, he was moved by our pettiness: he was moved by our hatred of him! Just like a parent, when in anger their child yells, “I hate you!” at them—that sinking feeling in your stomach, the tears, the sorrow—this is how the Lord felt for us, this is the compassion he felt, this is what moved him. The parent doesn’t want to punish the child. No, the parent is moved, even to tears, because they only want the good of the child.
This is how I often feel when I hear confessions. People come in and confess their sins, and there are times when I am almost crying on the other side of the wall because of the suffering and misery people endure as a result of their own sins. And I’m not almost brought to tears because I know that now I need to give them a punishment. No, I am moved, viscerally moved with compassion and pity for the misery they have put themselves in. I am moved by their rebellion. I am moved to offer them exactly what they need: the mercy the Lord freely offers to us all, not because we deserve it, but because of his love for us.
The Lord is moved by our sinfulness, by our rejection of him. Isn’t that amazing? The Lord even uses our rebellion, our narcissism, our nihilism as a means to show us his presence! Even though we are petty, God sent his beloved Son. He sent his Son to show us that he wants nothing more than to draw us to himself, draw us into his divine life. We don’t deserve any of it, and yet because God was so moved by our pitiable state, he gave us everything. God so loved the world that he sent us his Son to enter the depths of our condition so that we could enter into the depths of the life of God. That is the mercy of God. That is what the Baptism of the Lord communicates to us.