Sunday Sermon for January 10, 2016, the Baptism of the Lord, Year C

Readings: Is 42: 1-4, 6-7; Ti 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
In the first reading today we hear from the first of Isaiah’s four “Suffering Servant Songs.” In this song it is revealed that the Servant, the Messiah, is to establish justice. We are told that he will bring forth justice to the nations, that his work will not end until he establishes justice on the earth, and that he is called to the victory of justice.

One of the mysterious aspects of the way God works is that in the spiritual life things are just the opposite of the way they are on the natural level. For instance, the victory of justice that is spoken of in this prophecy is the most unjust event in human history. It is precisely in the injustice with which our Lord was treated that the nations are justified.

That justification is brought to the nations through Baptism. We see this in the second reading where St. Paul says that we are saved through baptism and the renewal of the Holy Spirit so that we may be justified by His grace and become heirs of eternal life. We have to remember that the justification spoken of is better translated as righteousness or that we would be made righteous.

Going back to the first reading, we are told that the Servant would be a covenant of the people. We hear something similar in Isaiah 49, the second of these songs, in which the servant is said to be a covenant to the people. What is important is to realize the truth that God is revealing here. He did not make a covenant with the people through Jesus as He had done previously through Moses. Instead, Jesus is the covenant.

This covenant is established on the Cross, but we enter into the covenant through baptism. Each person who is baptized, regardless of their nationality, becomes a member of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, as St. Paul mentions, each baptized person receives the Holy Spirit, God’s grace, and becomes an heir to eternal life. This is the means by which the nations are justified.

In order to show us the means to this justification, our Lord Himself underwent a baptism. It is not because He needed to be baptized, but so that He would be revealed as the One Who was to come. The people of Israel had been waiting for centuries for their Messiah and St. John the Baptist had been waiting for His revelation since he was told by God that the One upon whom the Holy Spirit would descend in the form of a dove was the One in Whom all prophecies would be fulfilled. It does not appear that anyone else heard the voice of the Father when Jesus was baptized, but John the Baptist heard it clearly, saw the dove, and understood.

Now, two thousand years removed from the baptism of our Lord, the Father’s voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit have been revealed to us. We are called, like the Baptist, to understand the meaning of this revelation. It certainly speaks to the Person of Jesus, but it also reveals the dignity of each person who is baptized into Jesus. We, too, are called to the victory of justice. We are called to this victory because this victory is already at work in us; we have been justified in Christ Jesus.

St. John the Baptist stated that there was One in the midst of the people whose sandal strap he was not worthy to untie. He remains in our midst and we, as unworthy as we are, have become the chosen vessels that bring Him into the midst of the people of the world. He remains quiet and hidden, as Isaiah said He would. He does not cry out or make His voice heard, yet He continues to open the eyes of the spiritually blind and call those imprisoned in sin out of their dungeons.

Ours is the privilege, and the grave responsibility, to be His eyes, ears, hands and mouth. When we consider what He has done for us, delivering us from lawlessness and cleansing us to be His own, we should be, as St. Paul says, eager to do what is good. Certainly this means living a virtuous life, but it also means bringing to others the means of our justification, the means of our ability to do what is good.

We cannot take credit for any of this; St. Paul reminds us that this is not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of His mercy. Because of His mercy you are called to the victory of justice and to bring that justice to the nations. Allow Him to work through you, through your goodness, to bring that mercy and that righteousness to many others.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit