Baptism: the Door to New Life

Baptism of the Lord (C); January 10, 2016

Is 40:1-11   Ps 29   Ti 2:11-3:7   Lk 3:15-22

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison


            With this Sunday following the Epiphany, the Christmas season draws to a close. After the dark days of Advent, we now enter a time of light, the light of Christ who appears in our life, not just 2015 years ago, but today, right here and now at Folsom Prison. His light is like the sun that appears on the horizon, which bursts into the shadows of evil, ignorance, and phoniness.   Today, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. We behold him today as an adult immersing himself in the waters of the river Jordan.

But, why would Jesus, who is Immauel–God among us—and therefore without sin, go to be baptized by John? Why did the sinless one perform a gesture of repentance and conversion—something that a sinner would do?   John the Baptist got the incongruity right away. In Matthew’s baptismal account, John “tries to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus replies, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him” (Mt 3:14).

            What is going on here? What does “fulfill all righteousness” mean? Jesus’ baptism—which marks the start of his public ministry—flows from the Incarnation. God, who doesn’t need anything from us, condescended to come down from Heaven and become one of us. Why would God do that? He did so to show us dramatically just how much God cares for us.   It comes down to God’s nature; as John the Evangelist boldly proclaims in his 1st letter, “God is love” (1Jn 4:8c). Love is not a characteristic of God, but is God’s very nature. That’s why God became human in order to save us from sin, death, and the power of Satan. And, to do that, he had to identify with our human condition, which subjected him to Temptation from the Prince of Darkness and sin, which eventually killed him. That’s why he accepted John’s baptism.

Brothers, Jesus did all of this, He saved you because God is in love with you.   He did everything he could do to bring you to salvation, which meant he embraced our human condition, which is in need of repentance and conversion, in every way—except that he was sinless, though, as St. Paul notes, he even “became sin for our salvation.” That’s why the Baptist, seeing, Jesus approaching, simply and boldly said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

            In today’s gospel Luke recounts that while Jesus, having received baptism “was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in a bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:21b-22). Why is the Father pleased? This Jesus the beloved Son   is totally immersed in the will of his heavenly Father, which is righteous behavior.

Brothers, at your baptism, which is of the Holy Spirit, you were initiated into the Church, the Body of Christ. You are most human, you are the best version of yourself, when you, too, do the Father’s will. When you do that through your thoughts, words, and deeds, your life is becoming congruent with what is really Real: you are grafted onto Life itself, which is Trinitarian love.

Jesus is the Son of God by nature—he is the second Person of the Trinity. Through Christ’s saving action, you are a son of God by adaption.   You, too, are beloved sons of God and you are called to do the Father’s will according to love. That means you go about your life here at Folsom Prison by being self-giving, by pouring yourself out for the good of others. An unrealistic pipedream, you say? No!—this is a Way of living that is congruent with Life itself. And, we know it’s true because Jesus conquered sin, death, and the power of Satan through his death and resurrection. If Jesus did that, he can certainly overcome a world that’s characterized by stupidity, fear, violence, and mayhem, both inside and outside these prison walls.

Brothers, Jesus knows the face of evil; indeed, our sins killed him. He did not address the dysfunction of our world through the typical strategies of ‘fight or flight,’ but he chose the path of humility, of willingly submitted to the will of his Father. He chose the path of responsibility by not trying to protect or saving himself, but to offer his life for truth and justice. He did that for you!

            So, the question is: how are you going to respond? If you say “yes” to Jesus, that means through grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, you’re going to live like this. But that kind of life requires a rebirth: to be reborn from on high, to be reborn into the very life of the Trinity. Brothers, we are reborn in baptism, which regenerates us to new life—a life that will endure forever.

(OTIONAL) I’d like to end this reflection with an ancient text from St. Hippolytus, who said way back in the 3rd century that “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 raised to filial status” (Discourse on the Epiphany, 10: PG, 862).

Brothers, my prayer for this community is that we rediscover the beauty of being reborn from on high. That we know to the very core of our being that we are loved by our Father in the same way he loves his beloved Son Jesus. And, I pray that we live as a child of God. Amen.