The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Jn 3:15-16).
These verses summarize our readings through the week. People are wondering if John the Baptist is the messiah. In each instance, John’s reply has been no. John consistently points to Jesus. John shared in today’s account that he has been baptizing in water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The Holy Spirit is the love shared between God the Father and the Son. Both love and fire transform that which experiences their touch. Through our Baptism we have been cleansed from the power of sin and have been created anew, born from above. We have been grafted to the living organism of the Body of Christ. As St Paul writes in his letter to Titus that we were “saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5).
Many of us, if we were baptized as infants do not remember our baptism, just as we do not remember our birth. Yet both are significant and joyful events. Many of us celebrate and enjoy our birthdays, but how many of us celebrate and enjoy our baptism? I include myself, as I do not even remember the date of my baptism. As Christians we are not invited to just follow and learn from and then imitate Jesus, as if he is our model and teacher alone. Through baptism, we become transformed by his fire and love. Baptism is the entrance sacrament because we are conformed to Jesus, and become a part of his Mystical Body. Through Jesus, we enter into the very life of the Trinity whose name we have been baptized into.
Whenever we enter the sanctuary or chapel before Mass and dip our finger into the holy water and make the sign of the cross on our foreheads, we do so as an affirmation of our baptism. We remember that we are literally part of the Body of Christ. When we are conscious of this action, we also recommit ourselves to our baptismal vows. We are promising to reject the ways of Satan and all his empty promises and affirm our belief in God the Father, Jesus his Son, the love shared between them, the Holy Spirit and that we are a part of his Body, the holy catholic Church. When we do this same action as we leave, we do so empowered by his Word proclaimed, the Body and Blood we have received and our communal fellowship shared with the people of God, to go forth to live a life of peace, glorifying the Lord by our life.
On this feast, as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, may we remember and celebrate our baptism, the day we died with Christ and so also rose with him as a part of his new creation. May we recognize that we are not mere imitators of Jesus but drawn ever deeper into an organic relationship with him. The transforming fire of the love of Jesus we received at our baptism grows each and every day as we are more and more conformed to him. From this sacred union we radiate the warmth and tenderness of his love to all those we encounter. A light has shown in the darkness and it will not be overcome but spread through us as the Body of Christ.