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BAPTISM, THE BEGINNING OF A NEW WORLD
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord, January 13, 2013
Isa. 40:1-5, 9-11, Ps. 103, Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7, Luke 3:15-16, 21-22


"Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased'" (Luke 3:21-22).


Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, the day on which Jesus was publicly revealed to the world as the Son of God, anointed by the Holy Spirit. His baptism also instituted our sacrament of baptism in which we confess our faith in Jesus Christ and are saved and justified by him with all our sins forgiven. In baptism we are made new men, born again, of God, and made a new creation. Through baptism the merits of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross are personally applied to us, and we are thereby made righteous by God, for the death of Christ paid for us our debt of punishment for all our sins, and his divinity enters into our humanity to divinize and illuminate us with his own righteousness shining in us. Thus he makes us righteous and holy, not through our merits, but only through his.


God is the one "who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:9). It is through the washing of baptism that God saves us. It is not through our own works, as St. Paul reminds us today: "When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:4-6).


If we were baptized as infants, we have to actualize our baptism as adults by a conscious act of faith in Jesus Christ in order to enjoy this new life that he gave us through his death and resurrection. But it is very important to recognize that this salvation, this justification, comes to us as a free gift from God and not because of our good works. It comes to us through faith alone, not through faith and works. It comes to us only through Christ's works, not through ours. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5 KJV). We are justified by faith alone, not by our works; not by faith and works, "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).


In Christ we are made new and resplendent with the splendor of the righteousness of Christ himself shining in us. Christ is the one "who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14). He gave us a new life, purified and forgiven by his merits on the cross, for he is the one "who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age" (Gal. 1:4). He "gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:6). Therefore we are to live a new life, loving God, obeying him, and doing his will, in order not to lose this great grace and gift of his righteousness, but rather to even grow still more in it through our good works, through our dedication to our neighbor for the love of God.


Our baptism is the beginning of all this for us. The divinity of Christ enters into our humanity in our baptism, and our sins are justly forgiven, for it is then that the merits of the death of Christ on the cross are personally applied to us. What we lose every time we sin is restored to us again through yet another sacrament that Jesus gave us, the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:23). In this sacrament we are justified again through the death of Christ, and we experience anew his peace in our heart and his righteousness shining in us.


We should, therefore, now live a new life in the light, trying to avoid all sin and live for God with all our heart. Isaiah speaks to us today of this new life that we now have in Jesus Christ. Isaiah's prophecies are fulfilled in Christ. Isaiah says that Jerusalem is now to be comforted, for "her iniquity is pardoned" (Isa. 40:2). Her time of salvation has come, for her Messiah has appeared. So now we are to prepare in the desert for a new world.


We have to prepare in the desert the way of the Lord; that is, we have to live in great simplicity, as John the Baptist lived in the desert, focused only on God, far from the world and its attractions, temptations, noise, and distractions that divide our heart from a pure love for God alone with all our heart, mind, and soul. In this new world that Christ brings us "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain" (Isa. 40:4 KJV). This is the miracle that Christ's redemption through his death and resurrection works for us, which we receive through faith when we are baptized. Then "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" (Isa. 40:5 KJV). We live in the beginnings of this fulfillment now.


How should we then live in this new world of salvation, in the actual presence of the Messiah with us? St. Paul tells us today. In Jesus Christ "the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world" (Titus 2:11-12). Those who do not do this but rather live in luxury like a rich man will have great difficulty entering the kingdom of God. "It will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven ... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:23-24). But on the other hand "everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life: (Matt. 19:29 NKJV). In the new world that begins for us in baptism we are to live in great simplicity, serving only one master (Matt. 6:24), and we are to be crucified to the world, and the world to us (Gal. 6:14).

 

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