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The Baptism of Jesus: “I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.”



January 10, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

Because of the demands of the calendar, I am writing this in the last hour of the year 2015. To procrastinate is to delay until tomorrow, so I suppose we could coin a word, proannuate, but to put a thing off until next year is easy to do on New Year’s Eve. In these dark days of the year, the contrast with light is more dramatic, and it always is the case that in moral darkness virtue is more luminous. The Visitation of the Magi and the Baptism of the Lord were about thirty years apart, but both are celebrated close together on the liturgical calendar as “epiphanies” when the Light of Christ was displayed to the world. At the start of the Third Millennium, St. John Paul II said: “. . . the Church respects the measurements of time: hours, days, years, centuries. She thus goes forward with every individual, helping everyone to realize how each of these measurements of time is imbued with the presence of God and with his saving activity.”

John the Baptist was bewildered when his cousin who was sinless asked to be baptized. John said it should be the other way around. According to human logic, he was right, but Jesus came into time to turn the whole world around. This was to “fulfill all righteousness,” which means he who “takes away the sin of the world” plunges into the water with sinners, just as his divine nature plunged into history with a human nature, the two being perfectly united yet not compromising each other. The water was a symbol, but the divine intention was a fact. Long before, Naaman could not understand why he had to make a long trip from Damascus to wash in the Jordan when there were better rivers back home. He learned that what cured him was his obedience to God’s will.

The Holy Spirit came down on Christ “like a dove.” Artists portray this as best they can, but one can get the impression that the Holy Spirit actually was a bird. That he “came down like a dove” explains that the divine love between the Father and the Son made this the moment that the Son accepted the commission to save the world. Immediately after the Baptism, Christ went into the desert to challenge the Anti-Christ. In January of 2014, our Pope had two children release doves from his window, and immediately they were attacked by a large crow and a seagull. Feathers flew and no one knows where the doves went, but the image of one white dove struggling against the black crow was worthy of an icon, and it is in fact replicated in all the “hours, days, years, centuries” of human existence. Baptism begins a fight, but it is a good fight. Chesterton said: “I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.”

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