Today on the Church calendar we come to the end of the Christmas season by celebrating the Baptism of the Lord.
The Gospel from Matthew describes the scene we’ve grown up hearing … Jesus appears before John the Baptist in the river. There is a momentary pause as John hesitates and Jesus sets his heart at ease. And then the voice from heaven is heard.
Not a painful episode.
But when you think about baptism … there is indeed pain involved. It is a painful process of being born … born again … over and over …
Think about the ways in which the story of baptism plays out in Scripture. As a species, we are baptized in the story of Noah’s Ark; as a nation, God’s chosen people pass through the cleansing, baptismal waters on their way out of Egypt; and as a worldwide church – a communion of believers – Catholics and most all Christians treat baptism as a Sacrament.
The stories all begin with comfort and joy.
Noah and his family tend the fields, love each other, embrace all that God provides. The Hebrews, living in Egypt, have grown prosperous – a friendly people thanks to Joseph, who was an advisor to the king and won his good graces. And then perhaps, you … created by God through the gift of man and woman, warm and safe in the womb. What could go wrong?
And then there is turbulence when you realize things must change.
Noah and family remain peaceful and focused on God while humanity slips into decadence and depravity. People all around them become solely focused on themselves and their own wants and desires. God taps Noah on the shoulder … build an ark!
The Hebrews, finding themselves suddenly under the rule of a new Pharaoh who is jealous of their prosperity, envious of their lives, outraged at their obedience to a desert God. Enslaved and persecuted, the Hebrews needed a savior. God taps Moses on the shoulder …
And then there is your child, growing in the womb, suddenly with arms, legs, fingers, toes … a brain, a beating heart!
But the womb is so small … where can it grow? It’s a scary world out there. Nonetheless … God taps the child on the shoulder … it is time!
In each of these scenarios, there comes a passage through the waters of salvation
Noah, his family and a boatload of animals find themselves floating in the Ark. 40 long days, 40 long nights … rain, rain, rain … washing away the sin of the world so that humanity can start anew.
The Hebrews, led by Moses to the edge of the water, Pharaoh and his soldiers pressing in … where can they go? Moses raises his staff and the waters of the Red Sea part. A nation passes through to an uncertain future … but a future full of hope and joy and faith in a God that loves them.
And your child, in a sudden rush that nearly takes its breath away, passes through its own waters of salvation. A jarring experience that usually ends with loud cries and wailing. But there are also smiles of joy from mom, dad and others present. The child comes into the world full of hope and joy and faith.
The child is born … physically.
Now, perhaps a few weeks later (perhaps much longer), the child will be born again … this time in the Spirit … baptized in the Trinity (Father-Son-Holy Spirit). Submerged in a Baptismal Font or its tiny head drenched with water from the hands of a priest, the child often cries tears of pain.
But the community of faith, our Holy Catholic Church, cries tears of joy. For on this day, this child has received a wonderful gift.
Original sin, the stain of humanity passed on from generation to generation, is erased! Grace, the sanctifying power given freely by God, enters the heart and soul. The child is forever marked with an indelible spiritual mark that says you belong to Christ!
Why do the babies cry?
Why do we cry?
Because it’s not easy to grow. It’s painful to leave the comforts of what we know, in order to journey toward the unknown.
But thanks to our Faith in a loving God and a saving Christ … we journey on.