The Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, 12 January 2020
How did we enter?
Many of us were baptised and taken to the Catholic Church by our parents: our faith was handed to us without our choosing it. Some Biblical history can help us appreciate our faith in God.
When God made a Covenant with Abraham, the Jewish people came into being; and when they left Egypt He made them a nation. He chose them from among the nations, so that through them He could send the Messiah to bring salvation and the forgiveness of sin. Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden and cut off from their relationship with God; but His purpose is to restore this relationship, for us to receive His life and to enjoy fellowship with Him. Our relationship with God was broken through sin, but He is a God of love. He sent the Messiah to restore us: Jesus was born, died on the cross, and was resurrected from the dead. God promised the Messiah to Israel, and they expected Him to come only for them; but the great surprise was that He came for everyone. This is the mystery of the Epiphany. The whole world is looking for the Messiah, and His Incarnation is for the whole world.
Yet it was not always this way for us. Even though we are Christians, in our history we were not Jewish, but our roots were pagan. Our forefathers did not know the one true God, but worshipped ancestral spirits and idols. We had no right to receive anything from God; but through the preaching of the Gospel that the Messiah came not only for Israel but for all of us, we have become partakers of His blessing.
The great surprise
In some countries if you visit a family unexpectedly when they are eating, they don’t invite you to join them, because food is prepared only for those who are expected. It is better if you know you are not included and then are invited, than if you assume you are included and discover that you are not. It is like being allowed to attend a party without being invited. We should be very thankful – what a great God!
Sometimes we don’t appreciate what is free, but only what we work for. Let us understand the love of God: although we were given salvation as a free gift, it was not really free, but Jesus died for it. Let us be grateful. When Jesus died on the cross He was thinking not only of the Jewish people, but also of you. We were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel; but because He had us in mind, we can worship the one true God, expect His gracious provisions, and experience the blessings of His Kingdom every day.
We need living water
Jesus’ Baptism reminds us of our Baptism. It is the entrance to God’s Kingdom, and without it we cannot be part of His Kingdom: only baptised Christians can receive Communion. Baptism has to do with death and resurrection: it is dying to our old life and old self and being resurrected in the new life of Christ.
Scripture mentions two kinds of Baptism: the Sacrament of Baptism, and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit which Jesus describes in John 7:37-38. We need the Baptism of the Spirit, because it is difficult to live as a Christian and impossible to be like Christ without His help.
Through Baptism the life of Christ was planted in you, but through the grace of the Holy Spirit it grows in you.
· The Sacrament of Baptism is like being a lamp plugged into the source, and the Baptism of the Spirit is like being switched on to give light to those around you.
· When you attach a hose to a tap, unless you unscrew the other end, the water will not come out. The Sacrament of Baptism attaches you to Christ, and you receive His life; but for abundant living water to flow out of you takes the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Let us meditate on these Scriptures:
· Mark 1:8 distinguishes between these two Baptisms.
· Acts 2:4 refers to the Baptism of the Spirit and speaking in tongues.
· Acts 10:38 says that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.
· Acts 10:44-48 some Gentiles were baptised with the Spirit and spoke in tongues, and were then baptised in water. Often people are baptised in water, then later join a charismatic fellowship and are baptised with the Spirit. Here it was the other way around.
· How can I receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? Jesus told the Samaritan woman we should ask Him (John 4:10).
Some people feel the Baptism of the Spirit is being forced on them. This is not true: if you don’t thirst for it, you won’t receive it. But you are missing out: any gift from God is good and something we need – otherwise He wouldn’t give it to us. Let us not expect a bad gift from God. Jesus said that even if human parents give us a serpent, God gives good gifts. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is extremely important in helping us to become like Christ. Without His power, it is very difficult to live the life Christ gives us.
I love the Eucharist and the Liturgy, but there is more to the Church than this. There is more to life than becoming human, working, eating and having a house – there is life in Christ. If God is giving us and reminding us of His gift of living water to share with those around us, let us avail of it.
Some people are concerned or apprehensive because they don’t know how to speak in tongues – that is why we need to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. When I experienced the Baptism of the Spirit, everyone was speaking in tongues except me. When I went home, I knelt down and prayed and said I would not stop until I spoke in tongues – and I did.
God does not give us something that would harm us – He gives us what is good for us, and it would be foolish to reject it. Sometimes in our walk with Christ we need the Holy Spirit to cause the stagnant water to flow again. We need not only sacramental Baptism, but also the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.