The Baptism of Jesus marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time. In the southern hemisphere, it generally coincides with the end of the summer holidays, a return to work and to the regular patterns of life. Most of us have been lucky enough to get some ‘down time’ after Christmas, time to reflect on the past year, alone or with loved ones, and to set goals for the year ahead, to move into Ordinary Time with renewed life and vigour for the sake of our planet and all its inhabitants.
The baptism story is an initiation or commissioning story. It needs to be heard against the backdrop of the first reading from Isaiah 55. Jesus is God’s beloved who is to be ‘a witness to the nations’. He is the source of life and life-giving sustenance. A graced and gracious life consists in fulfilling such a mission. In our times, it may consist in bringing hope to the women and children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other war-torn lands. It may lie in working to provide fresh water for the millions on our planet who do not yet enjoy that most basic of life’s needs. It may simply consist in being there for those around us.
The voice from heaven, God’s voice, names Jesus as ‘beloved Son’. God’s favour rests on Jesus. There are echoes here of the story of Isaac, the beloved son of Sarah and Abraham, the one through whom God’s promises were to be fulfilled. Isaac is the ancestor of Jacob orIsrael who struggled with God. God’s people have always struggled with God and will continue to do so. But God’s favour rests on God’s people just as it rests on Jesus of Nazareth, God’s beloved. We take heart from this in face of a world that cries out for justice and compassion.