The Baptism of the Lord
Some time ago I had led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to visit the historical sights associated with Christ.
A rare opportunity was opened for us to also visit the river Jordan in whose waters Jesus was baptised, as we read in the Gospel today. We had even planned to wade into the river, to renew a sense of our own baptism in the waters that Christ had once been baptised in.
As we approached the banks, we looked at the river. It was filthy! Parts of it were stagnant. You could see trash and plastic objects floating in it, even here and there a shimmer of oil on the surface. The water was brown and smelly, flies and insects danced on its surface. Even an occasional dead fish floated by! God only knew what lay beneath it. It was repugnant. Instinctively, I knew this place was a major health hazard.
Was I going to even touch this water, even dip my finger into it, to at least bless myself?
I read and meditated on the Gospel we have just heard, recalling Christ being baptised in this river. It then occurred to me, during Christ’s time this very river that flowed into the desert was used by towns and villages upstream to dump their human waste. Now that I looked into this filthy dirty water before me, I realized how disgusting and vile it must’ve been 2000 years ago, used as a floating dumpster for humanity. What was Christ getting himself into?
As pilgrims, passing through this world, we can visit the sites associated with Christ’s life, death and resurrection but we can keep ourselves clean, sanitized, on the outside looking in or reviewing our Lord’s life like a picture book, a movie or walking through a museum.
God did not tiptoe through the murky waters or walk carefully across stepping stones from one side of the river Jordan to the other. No. The word “baptism“ literally means “immersion”.
God was no tourist to earth or a pilgrim visiting sites. The pure and the holy, the divine and sinless one, totally immersed Himself, plunged himself completely into the filth and horror, into the physical and spiritual (dare I call it…) waste of the human condition, into the dark depths, into the very bowels of human sin. He was baptized, not only into our life, but into our sickness, our diseases, our sins, our death.
Do we as Christians remain on the riverbank peering in from a distance, astonished, removed, or from the sidelines, simply full of admiration for what Christ did? Can we hear His voice again that calls to us saying, “come follow me”. What? Follow you into your baptism, that baptism?
That’s why we can not simply sit on the riverbank, or observe Christ’s life from a safe distance like tourists simply passing through. The grace initiated in our life when we were first baptised, still runs through us. Is that water still clean? That’s why it is also so important to regularly examine our inner life. Doing so safeguards us slipping or falling down a muddy bank into an uncharted river whose contents and direction we know not.
With the closing of the Christmas season now upon us, meditate on how God immersed himself into the complexities of our human lives. But do not be afraid to immerse yourself deeper and deeper into his, so that we may come to share in the heights of his divinity because He dared to plunge Himself into the depths of our humanity.