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The Baptism of the Lord

13 January 2019
The Baptism of Christ by Antoine Coypel. Image: Public Domain.

 

You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you. Luke 3:22

13 January 2019, The Baptism of the Lord

 

Gospel Reflection

Isaiah 40:1–5,9–11, Psalm 103(104):1–4,24–25,27–30, Titus 2:11–14,3:4–7, Luke 3:15–16,21–22

Why did Jesus need to be baptised? Well, he didn’t. Rather, through his Baptism, Jesus takes all of human sin—past, present, and future—upon himself and carries them until the day of his death on the cross where he redeems us from sin’s consequences and restores us to eternal life. As St Paul tells us: “For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

But, it does not stop there. Just as we are immersed with Jesus in the water of Baptism and cleansed of our sins, we are also called to be “baptised”, or immersed, in the Holy Spirit as the apostles were at Pentecost. When we were confirmed, this is what happened: We were filled with the Holy Spirit and his Gifts and empowered—like the apostles—to bear witness to Christ. That is why we are called “Christ-ians”.

By our Baptism and Confirmation, we are called to be people of light and faith in a world that is growing ever darker; to be living witnesses of joy and hope in the lives of people increasingly mired in sin and confusion. Be aware of this as you cross paths with those in your life. You never know what a word here, or a smile there, or just your quiet, but faithful, witness to Christ may do. It may just be the ray of light or hope they need at that moment, and you may be the instrument that Christ has chosen to shine that light and hope for them.

Mary, cause of our joy and comforter of the afflicted, pray for us. Lord Jesus, help me, by the grace of my Baptism and Confirmation, to rise above my human frailty and sinfulness and to reflect your face to all who cross my path today. Amen. 

Fr Christopher G Sarkis

 

Artwork Spotlight

The Baptism of Christ – Antoine Coypel (1661–1722)

“The Baptism of Christ”, c. 1690. Oil on Canvas, 136.2cm x 97.6cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, USA. Public Domain.

For six weeks or so, we have listened to the Christmas story. But, it wasn’t just a story or a play that we attended. The Good News has been announced to us. Life is worth living, for life itself has entered our world and has lived our life. Now we know we have a God who understands us. Now we know God has a human face, can work with human hands, and can cry with human tears. And, we know he loves us: “Remain in my love” (John 15:9). A response is needed, so the Christmas season ends on a note of commitment.

At his Baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit to be Priest, Prophet, and King. He has come to reconstruct a broken world. But he never intended to do this alone. At our own Baptism, he deliberately and carefully chose each one of us to be his co-workers through time. As we came out of the waters of the font, the Father looked down on us and said, too, “You are my beloved; my favour rests on you” (cf. Mark 1:11).

Like Jesus himself, we, too, must be prophets—announcing by our very way of life the existence of another kingdom to which our earthly one must give way. We are priests—sanctifying the world and giving praise to God by our prayer life and works of love. We are kings—for by our faith and hope we have conquered the world.

The beautiful painting on which we are meditating comes from the brush of Antoine Coypel. It is dated about A.D. 1690. Coypel was born in Paris, the son of a painter. At an early age, he entered the French Academy in Rome, of which his father was the director. He won many academic honours during the late 17th century, and eventually became first painter to King Louis XIV in 1716.

This is not an original painting. It is a slightly smaller version of the altarpiece in the Abbey Church of Saint-Riquier in Picardy, France. Long before the science of photographic reproduction, it was common practice for an artist to paint another, smaller version of an important commission and keep it in the studio as an “advertisement” to future clients.

Coypel depicts the scene of the Baptism in an open landscape with Christ standing in the waters of the Jordan. With angels and cherubim in attendance, God the Father is blessing the proceedings. The Holy Spirit appears in a glory of divine light. You will notice that St John is looking directly at the Holy Spirit rather than at his cousin, as if obeying a divine command. An angel stands behind Jesus with a white cloth, ready to dry his head and shoulders. Coypel was very familiar with Rubens’ great Medici cycle at the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris, and has taken this idea from The Marriage of Henry IV and Marie de Medici. This was typical of French painters at the time—borrowing bits and pieces from famous works of art.

We are reading St Luke’s account of the Baptism. Luke’s Gospel has often been called the “Gospel of Prayer”. He sets the important moments in Jesus’ life in the context of prayer—at his Baptism, before his first collision with the Pharisees, before he chooses the twelve apostles, before his first prediction of his own death, at the Transfiguration. He has Jesus dying with the words of Psalm 31 on his lips: “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5).

It is interesting and of great significance for us that Luke does not describe the moment of Jesus’ Baptism, but rather its aftermath. It is Jesus’ prayer that tears the heavens open for the descent of the Holy Spirit who reveals to Jesus his true identity as the beloved Son of the Father.

It is the same for us. As baptised sons and daughters of God, prayer must be for us the very air we breathe. Prayer opens heaven for us, too. In a real sense, we are who we pray: “Tell me how you pray, and I will tell you how you live; tell me how you live, and I will tell you how you pray. Because, showing me how you pray, I will learn to find the God for whom you live, and showing me how you live, I will learn to believe in the God to whom you pray” (Pope Francis, Homily at Venustiano Carranza Stadium, Morelia, Mexico, 16 February 2016).

Like Jesus, we, too, learn our true identity only in prayer. At prayer, we struggle to hear what God is saying to us and to what he is calling us. Prayer was a constant in Jesus’ life. He spent whole nights in prayer communing with his Father. It is worth remembering that prayer does not change God—true prayer changes us until the Father’s will is ours. Jesus learned this lesson in Gethsemane. He prayed the same prayer over and over until he could say, “Let your will be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42). It would indeed be a fitting close to the Advent and Christmas season to renew today the vows of our Baptism.

Monsignor Graham Schmitzer

 

With thanks to the of Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2018 reflections from their publication, Saviour—Daily Advent and Christmas Reflections 2018. You can read the reflections as they are published here.

 

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