The Christmas season officially ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. While most practicing Catholics could probably relay the general story of Jesus’ baptism, there are still some common questions about this event and its significance. First, we’ll go over a few quick facts about the baptism of Jesus, for those who need a refresher.
Jesus was baptized as a grown man, probably around the age of 30. However, we know that this event marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The Gospel according to Mark, which focusses primarily on the concrete aspects of Christ’s ministry on earth, begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Prior to Jesus’ arrival at the Jordan River, John told those he was baptizing, “One mightier than I is coming after me…I have baptized you with water; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1: 7-8). When Jesus came to the Jordan and asked to be baptized, John protested that he was unworthy to perform the task for our Lord (Matthew 3:14). Yet Jesus insisted, and so John baptized Him. When Jesus came up out of the water, the Scriptures tell us that the heavens were “torn open” and the Spirit descended upon Jesus “like a dove.” A voice then came from the heavens, saying “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1: 10-11).
If Jesus was completely sinless, why did He need to be baptized? Isn’t baptism an outward sign of the purging of sin in our lives? The Church reminds us that it wasn’t the waters which consecrated Christ; rather, it was Christ who consecrated the waters. In other words, He didn’t need to be baptized; He did so out of love for us. Consider the analogy between Christ’s baptism and a common household necessity – doing the laundry. To wash dirty clothes, we first throw all of the clothes into the washing machine. Prior to turning on the machine, we throw a Tide Pod right into the middle of all the dirty clothes. We then press “Start,” and watch the waters gush forth onto the dirty clothes. The Tide Pod is only activated once it contacts the water. In this contact between detergent and water, the machine is filled with “soapy water.” The dirty clothes become clean through a combination of vigorous rotations and complete submersion in the soapy water.
We are like the dirty clothes (flattering, right?). Christ, like the Tide Pod, is thrown right into the middle of our sinful world. The water is just water. The Tide Pod, though it enters the machine, has no need to be cleaned; in fact, Christ, by His very nature, is clean and pure. He can’t be made otherwise, and He certainly didn’t need to enter our world or be baptized in order to be cleansed. Yet, when Christ entered into our world, and was then submerged into the waters of baptism, His ministry was activated and the new waters of our baptism gushed forth. We are cleansed and purified by these waters only because the waters touched the Christ. You see, Christ wasn’t cleansed by the waters; rather, His touch cleaned the waters for our baptismal purification. When the clothes are then taken out of the washing machine, they not only smell like the detergent, but the now invisible detergent is actually ingrained in the very fabric of each piece of clothing. This is the importance of the Baptism of the Lord. It is fitting that the Christmas season ends with this Feast day. As we celebrate Christ’s coming, let’s contemplate the reason why He comes – for our purification.
Written by: Curtis Gross, Seminarian in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati