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The Baptism of the Lord
January 13, 2019


    
A few years ago, I had the privilege of baptizing Elizabeth, the beautiful little daughter of some dear Italian friends.  The baptism took place in a one-thousand-year-old church in a tiny town in Tuscany and it brought together at least 50 family members from all over Italy.  I have many fond memories of that celebration.  It took place on a picture-perfect day in early October, the gently sloping hills brilliant in shades of gold and green, the sky the bluest blue you can imagine. A landscape worthy of Van Gogh!

     The baptism itself was great fun, like most baptisms, and this one was especially so because almost none of the family in attendance had ever seen a baptism by immersion.  There were audible sounds of delight as I took little “Izzy,” as they called her (Elizabeth was a maybe too big a name for such a tiny tot!) and plunged her three times into the great stone font that was festooned with garlands of white flowers.

     And I have another memory of that celebration that will long remain with me.  The church was about a half-mile distant from the little country inn where we were all staying, and to get to the church, the whole family - parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a pack of little cousins dressed in their Sunday best - formed a kind of procession (a fairly loose procession: this was Italy, not Germany!) that wound its way over the hillside, stopping at one point for a group photo in front of a lovely wayside shrine with a statue of the Madonna and Child.  Elizabeth’s baptism was, in every sense of the word, a family affair.

     Every baptism is a family affair, of course!   Ours here at St. James are doubly so: there’s the family, immediate and extended, of the baby being baptized, and there’s the family of the parish.  In the deepest sense of the word, each one of us becomes ‘family’ as we surround the baby with our love, our prayers, and our welcome.  Baptism is all about family: the family that brings their new baby to the church with love and great anticipation, and the family of faith – the Church – that welcomes its newest member with great joy.    

     The story of Jesus’ baptism that we heard from Luke’s gospel today makes it clear that his baptism was a family affair, too.  Luke paints the picture simply and beautifully.  We can see the people lining up at the water’s edge to be baptized by John the Baptist, their hearts filled with resolve and expectation.  At the end of the line is Jesus who steps forward to be baptized after everyone else. But Luke, unlike Matthew and Mark, does not describe the actual baptism. Instead, he zeroes in on what happened immediately afterwards.  He tells us that after Jesus had been baptized he was praying (Luke loves to talk about Jesus praying), and it was while he was praying that it became clear that his baptism was a family affair. The heavens opened up, we are told, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and his Father’s voice was heard from heaven, “You are my beloved Son.  With you I am well pleased.”   A family affair for Jesus this most certainly was: Jesus, the Father’s only-begotten Son, Jesus the one in whom the Holy Spirit lived and breathed as in no other, Jesus who long before he took flesh and became part of our family, was at the heart of God’s, family, the Blessed Trinity.

     My friends, this feast of the Baptism of the Lord not only celebrates the family affair that was the baptism of Jesus; it also celebrates our baptism, the day that we became part of a great family, the family of faith, the Church. And every day since, the Spirit of God has been living within us, the Spirit of love and joy and peace, the Spirit who gives each of us a family resemblance to Jesus.  And every day since, the Father has been looking upon us fondly and speaking words like the ones he spoke at the baptism of Jesus: You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased!

     And, my friends, God doesn’t stop speaking those words even when we lose our way and follow paths that take us away from Jesus and his Gospel. God is faithful even when we are not, and God has ways of getting through to us no matter how deaf or detached we may be.

     And for those who question their faith or their relationship with the Church because of the sins and failings of Church leaders – question whether they can any longer be part of the family that is the Church - even then, God never stops embracing them; never stops seeing them as beloved sons and daughters, never stops inviting them to find in the Church – no matter how flawed and imperfect – their home, their family, their path to God.

     Dear friends, two Sundays ago we celebrated the feast of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism.  But I will always think of this as a second feast of the Holy Family - our holy family, the family that we are, thanks to our baptism: the family of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the family of the Church.  Baptism really is a family affair!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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