Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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HOMILIES

Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

The Baptism of the Lord (Year C)

Jan 9, 2022 Views 276 Listen 12 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (40:1-5, 9-11)

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made now; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (104:1-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30)


(R) O bless the Lord, my soul.

O Lord, my God, you are great indeed! You are clothed with majesty and glory, robed in light as with a cloak. You have spread out the heavens like a tent-cloth. (R)

You have constructed your palace upon the waters. You make the clouds your chariot; you travel on the wings of the wind. You make the winds your messengers, and flaming fire your ministers. (R)

How manifold are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have wrought them all - the earth is full of your creatures; the sea also, great and wide, in which are schools without number, of living things both small and great. (R)

They look to you to give them food in due time. When you give it to them, they gather it; when you open your hand, they are filed with good things. (R)

If you take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to Titus (2:11-14, 3:4-7)

Beloved: The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.

When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke (3:15-16, 21-22)

The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

Today's feast of the Baptism of the Lord commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist and also marks the beginning of Ordinary Time. The baptism was one of the key events in Jesus' life. It is so significant that it has been recorded in all the four gospels, Mark (1:9-11); Matthew (3:13-17); Luke (3:21-22); John (1:29-34). To understand the meaning and implications of Jesus' baptism, we shall, first, briefly look at the context.

The Bible tells us that God chose Abraham, a man of righteousness and faith, to carry out His plan of saving all mankind, and made a covenant with him. The covenant was that Abraham would trust and obey God, and in return God would bless him with land and children, and the covenant would extend far beyond Abraham's own life time, to involve his descendants as well, Genesis (15:18-21); (26:3); (28:13). In the course of time, the descendants of Abraham through his son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob, became the nation of Israel and were known as Israelites, Exodus (9:7).

Unfortunately, the Israelites began to break the covenant and suffer the consequences. But God remained faithful to His covenant promise; He did not abandon them, Nehemiah (9:31); Psalm (94:13). When they cried out to Him in their distress, He saved them even while they were living in sin, and then renewed the covenant that He initially made with Abraham, Judges (3:9, 15); Exodus (3:17); 1 Samuel (7:8); 2 Samuel (22:7); Psalms (3:4; 30:2). Moreover, in His great mercy, He sent numerous prophets to deliver messages of instruction and correction as well as words of hope, comfort, and encouragement.

Since the time of Prophet Isaiah, the central message of the prophets was the coming of the Messiah, which had been, in fact, in the plan of God from the time of Adam and which the Israelites had been looking forward anxiously. Malachi, who lived four hundred years before the Birth of Christ, was the last of the Old Testament prophets to foretell the coming of Jesus Christ and His forerunner. The Bible tells us that, after Malachi, there were four hundred years of silence from God, that is to say, the Israelites had no prophets, no special revelations, no word from the Lord. It is hard to imagine that the people, who had been obtaining for centuries directions and guidance from God's messengers, were without a prophet to guide them for such a long time. This silence ended when God sent a new prophet, John the Baptist, to prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

According to the gospels, John was born to devout Jewish parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, six months before Jesus, and he mostly lived in obscurity until 30 years of age as did Jesus, Luke (1:36). He began preaching in the Judean desert a little before Jesus began His, probably six months earlier. He was calling people to repent and confess their sins, and then, receive baptism as a sign of transformation so that they could escape the wrath of God that was to come upon Christ's coming and instead inherit a place in Christ's Kingdom. Lots of people from Judea, Jerusalem and the surrounding regions went to hear John.

Hearing John's powerful preaching and symbolic action of baptism, many people wondered if John might be Christ, the Saviour. An important note here is that water baptism, by full immersion in water, existed even prior to John's time. Since an earlier time, the Jews knew and were used to baptism: they themselves did not submit to it because only the gentile converts to Judaism were required to undergo baptism as part of their conversion. The Jews believed that immersion in water was necessary to make the converts pure. But John was calling for the Jews to admit that they were sinners and needed to get baptized in water as a sign of their repentance.

Responding to people's expectations, John clearly said that he was not the Messiah but only the fore - runner of the Messiah. He further humbly acknowledged that he was "not worthy to loosen the thongs of Christ's sandals". Loosening or untying sandals was something only slaves did. Under the moral law of the Israelites, Jewish slaves were not required to wash the feet of their masters but the gentile slaves must do so. In Jesus' case, John felt that he was not even worthy to do that.

Luke writes that as John was baptising the people, Jesus too went to be baptized. Some might ask the question, if John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and those who came to him, therefore, were repentant sinners, then why had Jesus, who was sinless, gone to John to be baptized. There are three reasons for that:

Firstly, by submitting Himself to the baptism administered by John the Baptist, Jesus expressed His humility and obedience to the will of His Father.

Secondly, Jesus allowed Himself to receive John's baptism to show his solidarity with the sinful humankind which he came to save. In lining up for baptism like a sinner, Jesus set aside all exemption for Himself and completely identified with sinners. By being baptized, Jesus publicly demonstrated that He was in need of repentance and forgiveness Himself, although He had no need of it, in actuality.

Thirdly, Jesus accepted to be baptized, to sanctify the waters of baptism. He entered and sanctified the water with His very flesh so that our sins are washed away and that we become free from sin and acquire the state of holiness and grace.

Luke then writes, "After his baptism, while Jesus was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased", Luke (3:21-22). This was an extraordinary manifestation or a revelation of who Jesus is. It manifested the threefold presence of God. The Spirit was seen in the form of a dove and the Son was affirmed by the Father. God's voice must have really encouraged Jesus to know that His Father was happy with Him. Thenceforth, everything which Jesus did was to obey His Father. He humbled Himself and "became obedient to the point of death, even the death on the cross", Philippians (2:3b). Nothing Jesus did was outside of God's will. He knew that He had to die so that our sins could be forgiven and we could have eternal life.

What is the message for us?

  • Before we ask God for anything, we must, first, give thanks and praise to Him for everything, and not just for what God does, but who He is. We must, first and foremost, rejoice and thank Him for the greatest gift of all - His Son, Jesus Christ, who humbly identified Himself with us, sinners, and who, at His baptism, obediently began His work of saving us and eventually accomplished eternal redemption for us on the cross.
  • It is not sufficient to privately acknowledge our belief in Christ, but it is important to go public with our faith. And so, by being immersed in water or getting baptized, we make known to people that we have become children of God; that we follow Jesus Christ; that we have given ourselves up to God; that we have promised to obey and submit to God; and that we are members of the Church.
  • Just as Jesus' baptism was the beginning of a new chapter in his life and the beginning of His ministry, so also is our baptism the starting point of a lifelong path to conversion. Our baptism calls us to die to sin, to die to self and to be reborn into new life in Christ, no longer as just children of the world, but now as children of God.
  • As we commemorate our Lord's baptism, it is essential that we remember our own baptism, and affirm this most important event in our lives. But, unfortunately, many of us may not get excited about it anymore. We probably cannot also remember any of the details of our baptism, because we were baptized as infants. However, we can remember it in a different way. Every time we dip our finger into the holy water font at the entrance to the church and make the sign of the cross, let us consciously and devoutly recall our baptism, our union with Christ, and our baptismal promises; and then, ask the Lord to cleanse us of every sin, heal our infirmities, and strengthen us in our sufferings.
  • God may not always be well-pleased with us, but I believe that He will look down with an approving smile when He sees us trying to walk with His Son Jesus. Let us, therefore, make use of the opportunities God gives us for new beginnings; let us repent for our sins and dedicate ourselves to living a new life in Christ.
(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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