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Sunday Scripture: The wonderful gift of baptism

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

By Father Timothy Schehr

The Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 40:1-11; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

So far this liturgical year we have been celebrating events in the Lord’s early years: His birth and the worship of the Magi. Now Luke records for us His baptism by John; it begins the account of His public ministry. Excitement is in the air. Luke tells us how electrified the people were about John the Baptist and his message.

The people wonder if John might himself be the long-awaited Anointed One, the Messiah of God who would at last provide the kind of leadership the people had always longed for. John certainly does this in his own way, but he tells his way will soon be far surpassed by the ways of another.

The Baptist has a striking expression for this. He tells us he is not worthy to untie the Lord’s sandals straps. John is so humble in the Lord’s presence he would not even presume to do something as modest as helping Him take His shoes off before stepping into the river for baptism. It makes us wonder if John usually did this for others to further encourage them to accept the baptism he offered.

Details from this Sunday’s Gospel may lead us to appreciate even more the significance of our own baptisms. John announces that the Lord will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. We will see both of these together again on the feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes down on the apostles and tongues of fire are visible above each one of them. Those apostles inspired so many others to open their hearts to God’s word and make the world a better place by their witness to the Lord. This is something each of us can do as people baptized into the church.

Other details in this baptism scene include the fact that Jesus was praying and that heaven was opened. We can certainly take a lesson from the Lord and join our own prayers to His. We may not see the heavens open above us as they did on the day Jesus was baptized, but we can certainly live such good lives that people feel heaven a little closer in the things we say and do.

The first reading from Isaiah the prophet offers us more insight. The prophet receives a new commission. God tells him to speak tenderly to the people and offer them words of comfort. We can surely do the same.

The people in the days of the prophet were desperate for good news. After years of living away from Jerusalem as exiles in the land of Babylon they at last got the good news that they were going home.

God even has the way prepared for their return. The prophet is told to prepare a special road for their return: a highway straight through the desert. In the Exodus their forefathers walked on dry land through the sea; these exiles will walk along a watered highway through the desert that separates them from their homeland.

The second reading comes from Paul’s Letter to this faithful servant Titus. The apostle reflects on the wonderful gift of salvation “through the bath of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Paul wants to see this wonderful gift reflected in the lives of the baptized. By the grace of God we can now “live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the . . . Savior Jesus Christ.”

Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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