Baptism as Christian Rite of Socio Religious Transformation: From Infant Jesus to Adult Jesus

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Today we are bringing the long ceremonies of Christmas to an end with the feast of the baptism of the Lord. This celebration ushers us into the ordinary season of the liturgical calendar. From the beginning of the Christmas celebration till yesterday, we celebrated an ‘infant Jesus’ but from today, we celebrate an ‘adult Jesus’ who immediately after his baptism begins his public ministry.

This is why today’s celebration marks the transition from the liturgical season of Christmas into the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. Today is also the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, although it is never celebrated. However, the prayers of the Mass of first Sunday/week will be said during the week.

People of different interest groups and backgrounds have some rites with which an individual transits from one social group to another. In Igbo land, a boy does not become a man simply because he has reached 40 years of age or other ages as chronologically defined. He becomes a man through some traditional rites which at their performance the individual automatically transits from one social form of boyhood to manhood whereupon all the rights and privileges of a man are applied.

This is the same for girls. Also a man and woman are never said to become husband and wife just because they are cohabiting in the same house but through some traditional rites which will catapult them from non-married to married. Rites of transition include: ibe ugwu, iba mmanwu e.t.c. Also in the church, the rite of transition from non membership to membership is the rite of baptism. Hence in the church one is said to be a non member even when he has been so punctual, present and active in all church work but without baptism. At the instance of baptism, one is said to have grown from a non member to a member with all the rights and privileges of Christians.

In the olden days, John the Baptist wasn’t the one who introduced baptism for the first time. The Jewish people rather knew and were used to baptism, but they did not submit to it. Actually, it was used as an initiation rite for the pagan converts to Judaism from some other faith, whom they considered sin-stained or polluted religions.

Even this aspect of baptism is still retained – when we are baptized, we are initiated into the Church and become its members. Thus in the church today baptism remain primarily a sacrament of INITIATION. Little wonder at Christmas Christ was born as a man; today he is reborn sacramentally.

The baptism of Our Lord Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan is an important event in Jesus’ life with profound significance. It is highly symbolic, having deep meaning with numerous implications. It’s importance is characterized with the fact that all the three Evangelists of the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke speak of this striking event. Although there are slight differences in their individual accounts – in reality however, all of them unanimously agree that the baptism of Our Lord Jesus also marks the beginning of his public ministry.

One may wonder, and even find it difficult to understand, and may ask the question: ‘Why did Jesus need to be baptized by John the Baptist in the first place?’ John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and therefore, most of those coming to him were repentant sinners. But Jesus was sinless; he did not commit any sin; so, in no way did he need this baptism of John the Baptist.

  1. Jesus did it to show his unity and solidarity with the human race, which he came to save. In lining up for baptism by John like a sinner, Jesus set aside all exemption for himself and completely identified with the sinful humanity and became one like them. In this humble submission, we see a foreshadowing of the ‘baptism’ of his bloody death upon the cross. Jesus’ baptism is the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allowed himself to be numbered among sinners. He submitted himself entirely to his Father’s will. Out of love he consented to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.
  2. He did it to sanctify the water of baptism, so that our sins are washed away and we come to a state of grace in order to follow him. This meaning of baptism in relation to forgiveness of sins is still maintained. When we are baptized, the original sin, as well as personal sins are washed away; we become free from sin and acquire the state of holiness & grace.
  3. To fulfill righteousness thereby giving a new, full & divine meaning to baptism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs that “The fruit of baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.  By this very fact the person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ.”  The result of that Baptism was the sound of the Lord God’s voice telling us that he was well pleased with the way his Son was conducting himself as a man. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17)

Of all that baptism confers upon us, perhaps the most remarkable thing is that it makes us “adopted sons of God.” The only reason why we can pray the Lord’s Prayer, addressing God on such familiar terms as “our father,” is because of our baptism. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are made by adoption what Christ is by nature: sons of the heavenly Father.

Little wonder we hear Jesus say that he is ascending to “my father and your father” (Jn 20:17), a statement that would have been impossible for anyone before Jesus to make.  If we really reflect on what it means to be loved children of the creator of the universe, we can’t help but be remain in awe.

In baptism, we have been ‘tattooed,’ so to speak, branded or identified by God as belonging to a community of disciples. Jesus is our master. Baptism is not just a simple rite or milestone in one’s life: it is a transforming experience in which God lives in us and we live in God. That’s our identity, our indelible brand. We become empowered by God’s grace, God’s favor, to live as a disciple of Jesus.

The world around you might regard you as insignificant, a mere “nobody,” but you are really special, really important, and of great significance in the eyes of God. Many of us from time to time may think we don’t amount to very much and that we are unimportant. But the truth of who you really are is found in the words of your Father in heaven.

“This is my beloved Son.” “This is my beloved daughter.” In baptism, you became one of God’s sons or daughters in whom He is well pleased, chosen by your Father in heaven. And not only that but like the disciples at Pentecost, you are sent, something that is confirmed when you received the Sacrament of Confirmation and were anointed by the Holy Spirit of God.

About the godfathers and godmothers, the Holy Father Francis advises that you have the important duty of supporting and contributing to the work of parents in education, working alongside them in the transmission of the truths of faith and in witnessing to the values of the Gospel, in raising the baptized in an ever deeper friendship with the Lord. May you always give them your good example, through the exercise of Christian virtues.

It is not easy to demonstrate what you believe in openly and without compromise, especially in the context in which we live, in the face of a society that often considers those who live by faith in Jesus to be old-fashioned and out of date. In the wake of this mentality, there can be, even among Christians, the risk of understanding the relationship with Jesus as limiting, as something that is detrimental to personal fulfillment, “God is seen as a limitation of our freedom, a limitation that destroys man’s ability to be himself” But it is not so!

In conclusion brothers and sisters it is very true that we receive baptism only once in our lifetime and it’s the first and door to other sacraments but it is never a one-time event; we have to live and keep our baptismal promises throughout our life. That is to say that we have to conform to Christ more and more daily listening to HIM as the spirit recommends we do.

The water of baptism is indeed ticker than the blood of birth. As we remember our baptismal promises today, may we shun every form of association whatsoever that is not of God least our rejection of Satan and his antics would be in vain. In order words, we who have received the grace of baptism must endeavor always to live up to our baptismal promises throughout our life. And this is the Good News of today.

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