The journey through advent and Christmastide leads to the feast of Jesus’ Baptism and beyond. The journey of our inquirers and candidates, of course, also lead to baptism- to be ritualised and experienced by the former and explored and honoured with the latter. In the scripture readings of the seasons we have heard of many people on the move. For example, in Isaiah we heard messages for the exiles in Babylon, and later we heard some exultation at their return. With Luke we glimpsed Mary’s journeys to Elizabeth and to Bethlehem and with Matthew, the journeying of the wise ones. Each liturgy of the Word has echoed within our experiences and each has given reasons to stop and ponder and maybe given directions for our way ahead.
Perhaps the feast of the Baptism of the Lord may encourage us, with our inquirers and candidates, to look back over this advent/Christmas journey. The journey shared alongside the sometimes-hectic preparations for the diverse celebrations of Christmas.
On the first Sunday of Advent we heard the pleading of Isaiah: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” Is 64:1. On the last day of the Christmas season we hear the words of Mark: “…just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart…” Mk 1:10. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord takes us away from the child of Christmas to the adult at the threshold of ministry. Heaven is torn apart, barriers are removed and God claims the Beloved and is well pleased with him.
At our moment of baptism (which is an ongoing reality now!) the union of heaven and earth becomes real too and each is ‘the beloved’ of God with God’s favour resting on us – what marvels! Jesus told Nicodemus that, ‘unless he be born again of the water and the Spirit, he could not enter into the kingdom of God’ cf John 3:5. The General Introduction to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults says:
“Baptism, the door to life and to the kingdom of God, is the first sacrament of the new law, which Christ offered to all, that they might have eternal life…. That is why the Church believes that it is its most basic and necessary duty to inspire all… to that true and living faith by which they hold fast to Christ and enter into or confirm their commitment to the New Covenant.” n3
Advent and Christmastide 2008/9 could not be just a routine or familiar journey for us at the start of another year’s liturgical cycle because the covenant is ever new and the Word of God living and active. The presence of those that we accompany on their journey to baptism or to full communion makes the familiar ever fresh. So I ask: what have I as a Christian and as a catechist experienced and learned in this time? What have been the challenges presented by the self-giving God-with-us and needs of people nearby and faraway? Isaiah’s invitation to “come to the water” Is 55:1 seems to challenge me to discern again how I live my baptism now, how to keep on the road of on-going conversion so as to be awake to the disciples of Christ who seek baptism or full communion with us.
Liturgically we arrive at the waters of the Jordan and the verge of public ministry and a return to ‘ordinary time’. Like Mary we have pondered mysteries in our hearts and continue to ‘wonder at all that is said about him.’
On this journey in faith with inquirers and candidates I need frequently to check my bearings along the road. There’s no sure satellite navigation for this journey! Is it the way of Jesus in the gospel: Baptism followed by ‘desert’ time, then announcing the Kingdom of God, going about doing good and proclaiming forgiveness? Can it really be that just by being, each person is the ‘beloved of God, and we can know ourselves to have God’s favour, having God’s Spirit.’ (cf Mk1 Baptism of the Lord)! Isaiah recommends that journey “to the waters…” and to “Seek the Lord…” (Is 55, Baptism of the Lord). If I can be faithful to that journey and recognise when I veer off course perhaps I may be used as some kind of signpost on the roads others follow.