Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord provides a moment to reflect not only on the Lord’s baptism, but also on our own. For in an extended sense, when Christ is baptized, so are we, for we are members of His body. As Christ enters the water, He makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water and we follow. And in these waters He acquires gifts to give us, as we shall see below.
Why was Jesus baptized? It has been asked in every generation why Christ sought baptism. The baptism of John surely pointed to sin, of which Christ had none. The question has been well answered by the Father and many others. In effect, Christ descended into those waters; He troubled those waters, stirring them up to make them holy for our sakes. And by this descent, which points to the Paschal mystery, obtained manifold blessings for us. St. Maximus of Turin speaks of Christ’s baptism this way:
I understand the mystery as this. The column of fire went before the sons of Israel through the Red Sea so that they could follow on their brave journey; the column went first through the waters to prepare a path for those who followed. … But Christ the Lord does all these things: in the column of fire He went through the sea before the sons of Israel; so now in the column of his body he goes through baptism before the Christian people. … At the time of the Exodus the column … made a pathway through the waters; now it strengthens the footsteps of faith in the bath of baptism (de sancta Epiphania 1.3).
So Christ, as it were, opens a way for us by troubling the waters, just as He did at the Red Sea, and obtains for us victory over our spiritual enemies. He brings us forth to freedom on the other side. He is baptized for us. Ephesians 5:30 says, we are members of Christ’s body. Thus when Jesus goes into the water, we go with Him. And in going there, He stirs up the water; He troubles the water for us, acquiring gifts on our behalf.
Don’t be afraid of troubled waters; there is a blessing on the other side. A songwriter once spoke of seeking a bridge over troubled waters. Biblically, this is poor advice. For it is only by going through, or wading into, the troubled waters that the blessing is found. More on this in a moment. For now, simply observe that Christ wades in, troubles the water, and obtains blessings for us out of the troubled waters.
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