Baptism of the Lord is Epiphany

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The WORD in other words (2023) by Fr. John O’Mahony, SVD — Divine Word Seminary Tagaytay City

Baptism of the Lord

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Jean Restout: Baptême du Christ

Perhaps it might surprise us if we are told that the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the last day of the Christmas season. In this feast, we see Jesus announcing his presence as a mature adult, so why should we consider it to be the last day of the Christmas season? What does this day have to do with the familiar scenes of crib, shepherds, visit of the Magi. etc.? What is the connection between the two feasts? 

“Epiphany” is the connection between the two events, separated chronologically by a gap of about thirty years. What do we mean by that? In the religious sense, Epiphany means a manifestation or revelation of something from God. In particular, it refers to the Feast of the Epiphany, which we celebrated last Sunday. We celebrated the manifestation or revelation of the great truth that the Infant Jesus is the divine Son of God, sent to proclaim salvation to the gentiles (the visiting Magi represent all people, including you and me).   

What we might not be so aware of, however, is that the Church also celebrates another Epiphany of the Lord today. The feast of the Baptism of Jesus is also an Epiphany. It too reveals to us the divine origin of Jesus as the Son of God. The Father proclaims it to us (“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased”), and the Spirit confirms it is coming down upon Jesus “like a dove.” This manifestation or revelation is given to us in the baptismal context of Jesus preparing for, and accepting, his mission of proclaiming salvation to all humanity. It is a consecration sealed by the manifestation of the Triune God. 

The involvement of the Holy Trinity in the Baptism of Jesus sheds light on a number of  questions surrounding this event. Why did Jesus feel the need to be baptized? Was it really necessary for his mission? After all, Jesus was without sin, while the baptism of John was a cleansing for sinners. It seems like Christians were asking these questions from the very beginning. This is why Matthew gives us the dialogue of Jesus with John the Baptist to help find the answer. The participation of Jesus in this ritual shows us God’s desire to be in solidarity with sinful humanity to lead them in bringing “justice for the nations” and to enable them to be “a light for the nations” in the search for healing and peace (1st Reading). Here Jesus was “anointed with the Holy Spirit and power” as he began his mission of proclaiming salvation for all the nations (2nd Reading). It was now time, as it were, for the beginning of “Christmas in action.” 

And so we return once more to the Baptism of Jesus as the conclusion of the Christmas season. We have been putting away the Christmas decorations. We have allowed the Infant Jesus to “advance in wisdom and age before God and man” in the silence of Nazareth. And now he comes forward to be consecrated for his mission by the testimony of the Father and Holy Spirit as he enters into solidarity with us through his Baptism. And he is asking us if we are willing to join him in fully accepting our own baptismal consecration, ready to do our share in being instruments of God’s justice and peace and allowing his light to shine in us to draw others to him. What is our answer to his call? 

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