For a little while longer, we are still in Christmas, but every day the mysteries of the season seem to wither a little, like the leaves of the poinsettias; the expectation of Advent seems far away, and in just a few days we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, and enter — with some sense of refreshment, because after a time we long for the comforts of what is routine and regular — into Ordinary Time.
The Baptism of the Lord is being presaged in the readings and prayers of the Divine Office. In Advent we prayed, “Drop down dew…heaven, pour down your water from above; let the just one descend. Open up O earth, and let the savior bud forth…” And now, we are thinking of water again — this continual saturation of presence:
Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched. For the consecration of Christ involves a more significant consecration of the water.
For when the Savior is washed, all water for our baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages. Christ is the first to be baptized, then, so that Christians will follow after him with confidence.
I understand the mystery as this. The column of fire went before the sons of Israel through the Red Sea so they could follow on their brave journey; the column went first through the waters to prepare a path for those who followed. As the apostle Paul said, what was accomplished then was the mystery of baptism. Clearly it was baptism in a certain sense when the cloud was covering the people and bringing them through the water.
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 provided light for the people who followed; now it gives light to the hearts of believers. Then it made a firm pathway through the waters; now it strengthens the footsteps of faith in the bath of baptism.
–Office of Readings: From a sermon by Saint Maximus of Turin, bishop
The mystery of the Lord’s baptism
There was a moment during my offices this morning when I was feeling wholly submerged within the beauty and power of the psalms and readings, and wondering what it would be like to live a life “saturated with scripture…”, and I couldn’t help but catch my breath as I came to the intercessions of Lauds and read:
Our Redeemer, you descended upon the earth as the rain which fell upon the sheepskin of Gideon,
now drench our lives in the living water that springs up to provide eternal life.
– By the power of your birth, make us new persons.
The readings at Mass continued the watery themes, deepened and expanded upon them. Jesus healed the leper, and told him to go show himself to the priests, and do what is prescribed in Jewish law in order — which would include a ritual cleansing in water — in order to be fully reunited with tribe and temple.
It would be a cleasning with water that had been rendered holy by the sacramental presence of Christ, in his baptism; the water that evaporates into pillars of clouds and returns, again and again, to earth. It is all of a piece and we are, yes, drenched in Presence, in grace, in scripture, in hope. Never abandoned but imbued, even unto our blood and being — which is so much fluid — with this water of life.
It is a reality so near, it should seem poured over us, and yet — perhaps because we are too near it, we cannot see it, as we cannot see ourselves.
Water all around us; water within us, all of it blessed by this baptism, and by which we are interconnected with each other and with Christ. If we truly understood this — if we could hold to that understanding for more than a moment — what a different world would be ours.
In all of these thoughts of water, I am also remembering the plight of a small boy who has suffered second and third degree burns on over 40% of his body, including his face, hands, arms legs. Please remember little Fulton in your prayers. Lord, the one you love is suffering; his tender flesh terribly wounded. Divine Physician, let the dew of your healing presence cool what is burned; soothe and heal what is so traumatized. Be a balm to Fulton’s body and spirit and to the minds of his family. In the name of Jesus, Amen.