Friday, January 10, 2014

Homily (2) the Baptism of the Lord Year A: Fr. Michael Udoekpo


Homily (2) the Baptism of the Lord Year A: Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 42:1-4, 6-7;Ps 29:1-2, 3-4,3,9-10; Acts 10:34-38 and Matt 3:13-17

Baptism, Christ’s Gifts to us

 Happy New Year!
Few weeks ago we celebrated the birth of Christ and his Epiphany. Many including, Joseph, Mary, and the angels reacted different to these events. The angels, for example sang the Gloria, “Glory to God in the highest.” The shepherds abandoned their animals in the desert and traveled to the manger in Bethlehem to visit with the holy family. Simeon, the prophet sang the Nunc Dimittis, while Anna, the prophetess professed the uniqueness she saw in Christ, and spoke about this special child to everyone (Luke 2). The magi from the far East brought him gifts gold, frankincense, myrrh and of course, their gestures of worship-proskunh/  (Matt 1:1-12).

Like the angels, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna and the Magi, many of us also had a good time during Christmas and the opportunity to joyfully react to these divine events in our own ways. Events guided by the Holy Spirit! Think of the Christmas related movies we watched, the carols and music we listened to; the gifts, cookies and candies we shared; the telephone calls we made to our friends, families and to our loved ones, the liturgies we celebrated, the homilies we preached, or heard from the lips of our eminent preachers, beginning with the Holy Father, our popular Pope Francis, our bishops, priests, pastors and deacons. All in the name of Celebrating Christmas  or reacting to the divine events God coming to dwell among us, in spite of brokenness.

It is true that after the Christmas’ events not much is heard in the Christian Bible of how the quiet and righteous Joseph managed his carpentry profession, or how the obedient Mary (who had said to the angel Gabriel “be it done to me according to your words”) changed the diapers and raised Jesus to the point when he would have to begin his public ministry as witnessed extensively in the 4 Gospels and by Saint Paul.
The Baptism of Christ which we celebrate today, in the beginning of our new semester is built on these past events that have always been guided by the Holy Spirit. Through his Baptism, Jesus the sinless God-man teaches us humility. With it he accepts, inaugurates his public ministry. He identifies this ministry with that of the suffering Servant of God whose mission we are told in the first reading of (Isa42:1-4, 6-7).  The suffering servant in our first reading was to bear all kinds of sufferings on behalf of the people. He was to bring justice, judgment and salvation to everyone as God’s agent. God speaks through Isaiah, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit, he shall bring forth justice to the nations.”  
Baptism not only washes away our sins it brings us the Spirit of God. It brings us closer to God and keeps God’s heavens opened for each an every one of us. The heavens that were once closed because of the sins of our first parents ( Genesis 3) are now opened for us through Christ’s baptism Evangelist Matthew says in the Gospel, “After Jesus was baptized he came up from the water and behold the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him (Matt 3:13-17).”

The Baptism of Jesus opens for us the means by which we are spiritually reborn (Jn 3:5-12) and are restored in communion with God. It is one of the sacraments of our salvation. It is the gate way, the entrance to our Christian life and spirituality.  Recall, Nichodemus was told in John 3 that, “Unless you are born of water and the Holy Spirit you cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3-6).  It is a spiritual door for us.

 After the Ascension, Jesus said to the disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  With this, we become adopted and beloved children of God sharing in his divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). When we received baptism God is saying to us “these are my beloved children in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).
For us the baptized God is very pleased with us. Baptism which Christ instituted brings us into the life of the Blessed Trinity.  With it, we are anointed and infused with virtues of faith, hope and love (1 Cor 13). With it, we become temple of the Holy Spirit; the same Spirit that guided the events of the birth of Christ. With baptism we have become a new creation and living members of the Church, the Body of Christ. We become living members of our Christian families and our Seminary Community. We become members that are alive with love, self discipline, sacrifices, charity, and spirit of forgiveness.

Saint Paul preached about this newness of life in Christ in Romans 6:3-4, when he says,

 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” (read also Col 2:12 or 1 Cor 12:12-13).
 Luckily too, many of us have just emerged from your retreat, walking back to the Seminary refreshed. Some have been ordained deacons during the break! I am sure you feel renewed and ready to go, another new semester, another new year. There are new books in the Library and new faces on campus. As you walk into our class rooms too, you will find new chairs and new desks and newly painted walls. Thanks to our administration’s new initiatives. Some of you have also gotten new sweaters and winter jackets.  We can always blend this physical newness with our spiritual renewals, rooted back to the foundations with which we laid during the gifts of our baptism, one of the external signs of inward graces.
 And as we begin a new semester in this New Year we pray that the gifts and graces which we all received  during our baptism(the  gift of hard work, the spirit of peace, the spirit and of social justice, the spirit of Christ,  the spirit of Ebed Yhwh, the spirit of the suffering servant of God, the spirit of selflessness, the spirit of the common good, the spirit to love the poor, the spirit of inclusivism, the spirit to love and be faithful to the Church, the spirit to renounce sins, and the spirit to always love and pray for one another) which we have  renewed at this Mass, may guide and direct our studies and work throughout this New Year.