The Baptism of Christ, Pietro Perugino (1446–1523) and his workshop, c.1482 (detail); Sistine Chapel

Fr Neil’s homily for the Baptism of Christ, 9 January 2022

He saves us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.¹

The Baptism of Christ by John was not, like all the others, a baptism of repentance. Christ’s baptism was to inaugurate him as the long-foretold Messiah. It reveals that he, the anointed one, is affirmed by the signs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice from heaven: “you are my beloved Son.”²

Here we see Christ step out of from the shadows of his hidden life into the public arena. He is announced to the world with these dramatic signs from heaven and the words of John; “he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”³

The setting of the beginning of Christ’s public ministry couldn’t be any more significant. The Jordan was crossed by the Israelites after forty long years of wandering the desert. Finally they crossed the river to make their last step from a slave people to become the nation of God. Their exodus finished as they took possession of the Promised Land.

Christ’s baptism in the Jordan announces the purpose of his mission. As the Messiah of God he will lead the way into a new exodus. This exodus however, will be to a freedom from spiritual slavery rather than physical freedom. It will lead to a new promised land, a kingdom that is eternal, reaching beyond the bounds of an earthly realm.

This spiritual freedom is to break the bonds of the old curse of the Fall we inherited from our ancient parents Adam and Eve. We are to be liberated as children of God in his heavenly kingdom.

Our celebration of the Epiphany revealed the plan of God. In Christ, all peoples — symbolised by the Magi — would be co-heirs to the blessings promised to Israel. Today we are shown how we claim our inheritance.

His baptism is a decisive point that will illuminate Christ’s mission in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, as he returns to his eternal glory with the Father. As a disciple of Christ there is a daily requirement to make a decision for the Lord as we seek to walk the way of holiness and life. However there has to be a first decisive moment when we offer our ‘Yes’, ‘let it be’⁴ to God. This offering, of our will to be conformed to his, is our first step on our own exodus to freedom and salvation.

That first step is made explicit and effective in our own entering into the waters of our baptism. It is a baptism of repentance where we will renounce “irreligion and worldly passions,”⁵ so that we might, “live sober, upright and godly lives in this world.”⁵ It is also however a baptism of fire that purifies and a “regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”¹

That first decisive step, for most of us, would have been made by our parents who rightly have a godly authority to make decisions on our behalf while we are still children. In fact baptism, among other things, proclaims that our children are already part of God’s kingdom and retain the full dignity as a child of God that isn’t dependent on the age of reason.

Our baptisms are not just some past event consigned to the pages of the history of our lives but an ongoing present reality.

The act of repentance, regeneration and renewal are a part of the landscape of anyone who wishes to walk the way in Christ to the heavenly promised land. We are fed on the way and spiritually sustained by the heavenly manna of the Eucharist — the very life of Christ himself.

Wisdom that is gained on this our exodus journey becomes aware that; “he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy.”¹ Quite simply he loves us and continues to call us out of darkness and enslavement of sin into life in the light of his divine glory. We often struggle to see ourselves as loveable by others, let alone by God himself! Yet here he is, in the flesh, opening a way into life on the banks of the River Jordan and he bids us to follow him. If we can accept that love, that call, undeserved as it is, then we can make a decisive decision for God, as our response of love in return.

Opening up our heart to Christ is to allow the Holy Spirit to seek to change anything that stands in the way of our embracing full life in him. It is to put God at the centre of every decision each of us makes. It is to seek to bear witness to him as the ‘way, truth and life.’ It is to love, the alien, widow, orphan, neighbour and our enemy even to the point of death. It is to be transformed by his love that we are able to love enough to say both ‘yes’ to life and ‘no’ to anything that is not of God for ourselves and for others, “so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”⁶

¹ Titus 3:5
² Luke 3:21–22
³ Luke 3:16
⁴ Cf Luke 1:38; cf Gen 1:3
⁵ Titus 2:12
⁶ Titus 3:7