Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – 12th January
One of the most significant events of the Christian life is one that many people will not remember unless they have been baptized later in life. As we know baptism is efficacious, that is that it achieves in the life of the person what the sacrament intends. A person becomes one with Christ and one with the Christian community. This often has the fancy title of bringing about an ontological change in the life of the person. Yet I am struck that this choice often made by the parents of a child when they were a baby needs to be affirmed in the life of the person as they grow older. It is part of the reason why we celebrate the sacrament of confirmation when a person is a young adult and they are able to start adopting the Christian life for themselves. Yet we know in reality that the celebration of a sacrament can be mired in many other expectations not chosen by the person being baptised or confirmed. They can be the pressure to please older relations, to ensure a place in a good school or even because it is a tradition which keeps us connected with the spiritual side of our life even if people do not regularly attend Church.
The question that raises its head at the baptism of the Lord is what is actually going on? I believe fundamentally it is an invitation made by God into relationship with his Son. There is a witness that God cares so deeply about us that Jesus enters into our human story. This is not just a repentance of sin and dying to self but rather the planting of desire deep within us to grow in a life-giving relationship with God. In this way baptism is not just a ritual action which happens once in a person’s life but rather an opening up of the gates of heaven to how we are called to live in our everyday lives. There is a realisation that there is now no separation between us and God. This changes how we relate to God and each other. It allows us to be seen by God and to be transformed by grace. It allows us to see the world from God’s point of view and allows us to become people who grow in relationship with God and each other. We are transformed by grace so that we can live with hope, faith and love. Our lives are now no longer solely our own but immersed in the person of Christ who seeks us out. In this way we become people who cooperate with God’s grace in our daily lives.
Fr. John Armstrong