For the Church, the cycle of Christmas feasts ends today with the feast of the baptism of our Lord and Luke’s gospel.
It is odd that of all days, the Christmas season end with Jesus’ baptism, which he did not request from John until he was thirty years old. It would seem that Jesus’ baptism has little to do with his birth.
Luke gives a vivid account of those who came to the Jordan to receive the baptism of repentance: soldiers, tax collectors, prostitutes. And then suddenly, Jesus is in their midst! John shrinks back. “What are you doing in such company? After all, you have no need of repentance. I need baptism, not you, John protests. Nonetheless, Jesus insists on receiving baptism in the midst of this assorted, sinful crowd of people.
What moves him to take this step? Why does he leave Nazareth, his family, his occupation? For thirty years he has lived a completely inconspicuous life as a manual laborer. Now he sets out on his own.
And his first step is to go to John in the midst of the penitents. His first official act is something like his “life agenda.” Right from the beginning Jesus takes up the place that expresses the mission of his life: in the midst of us poor sinners, as if he was one of us. Even his name expresses the mission: Jesus, in Hebrew, means “God saves.” The angel had explained to Joseph in a dream that this was the reason for calling the child that Mary was expecting Jesus: “For he will save his people from their sins.”
So this connects Jesus’ birth with his baptism: that he came to free us from our sins. That is why he, the Son of God, became man; that is why he comes to the Jordan, in order to place himself in the midst of us sinners and to take our burden of guilt and our error upon himself. He does not look contemptuously at the people around him who have come to John: rather, he takes their side. And God gives his approval: “This is my beloved Son.”
When Jesus was baptized He accepted the mission that was the whole reason why He became a man. He began His public ministry which would end in the destruction of sin and hate with obedience to the Father and love for His people. Jesus embraced His mission, defeated the devil, established the Kingdom of God, and then called on each of us to continue His ministry, more than that, to complete His ministry.
This reminds me of the famous story about the completion of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Turandot. Puccini was one of the greatest composers of opera of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. La Boehme, Tosca and Madame Butterfly are just a few of his most famous works. His final work was the opera, Turandot. He knew he was dying when he started writing Turandot and almost completed it, but he passed away before he finished the final act. Puccini had many students and associates who gathered around his deathbed. They made up their minds that they would complete Turandot as an expression of their esteem for the great composer. It didn’t happen all at once, it took a number of years, but finally they finished the task. The opera debuted at one of the most famous theaters in the world, La Scala in Milan. It was conducted by the former pupil of Puccini, Arturo Toscanini. The music was beautiful and the audience was spellbound. Then in the middle of the Third Act, after the great aria, Nessun Dormo, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the people and announced, “It is at this point that the Master died.” You could have heard a pin drop. Then Toscanini looked at the audience and said, “But his disciples continued his work in his spirit.” Toscanini turned back to the stage and completed the opera to the thunderous applause of all at La Scala.
We are called to continue the mission of Jesus Christ in His Spirit, His Holy Spirit. We are determined to complete the work of the Master. We do this through our vocations to the married life, to parenthood, to the priesthood, to religious life, or to the life of the committed Catholic single.
When we love others, we are continuing His mission, for He is the Tremendous Lover.
When we develop and use the particular gifts He has given to each of us to make the world beautiful for others, we are continuing His mission.
When those of you who are married put your spouse before yourselves, you are continuing His mission to make love the motivation of life.
When those of you who have children empty yourselves so your children can grow into the reflections of God He created them to be, you are continuing His mission.
When we strive to be the best at whatever it is that He calls us to do in our careers, we are continuing His mission.
When we say “No!” to sin and “Yes” to care for all who are hurting, we are continuing His mission.
When we make time to be kind to those whom our society hates, the downtrodden, the socially unacceptable, the butt of jokes at school, at work, in the community, we are continuing His mission.
When we respond to the grace to do something for someone else, we are continuing His mission.
When we realize that we are not the center of the universe, but that Jesus is the Center, and our center, we are continuing His mission.
“You are my Beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” This was the voice of the Father over the Son after Jesus was baptized by John. The Father was pleased that Jesus embraced His mission. He is pleased when we continue Christ’s mission.
What a gift we have been given in Jesus Christ. Some people think that life is meaningless, without purpose. But we Christians know why we were created and how we can live meaningful lives. We can make a difference in the world by uniting ourselves to the One who changed the world with His Life. We can continue the mission of Jesus Christ.