Sunday, January 13, 2013

Transformed Through Him Whom We Recognize: The Call of the Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the end of the Christmas Season by remembering Christ's baptism: that moment when he permitted himself to be recognized, so that he could begin his public ministry. It's easy to think that this feast is simply a memorial of a particular incident in Christ's life in First Century Palestine.  It's less obvious that this is a call to personal transformation, but the prayers of today's Mass make that pretty clear.
Take a look at the Missal prayers of the day.  Here is the Collect. Uncharacteristically, we have two choices.  Most presiders will no doubt choose the first, which takes us back to the moment in Jesus' life. But look closely at the second one:
Almighty ever-living God,
who, when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan
and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him,
solemnly declared him your beloved Son,
grant that your children by adoption,
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit,
may always be well pleasing to you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
O God, whose Only Begotten Son
has appeared in our very flesh,
grant, we pray, that we may be inwardly transformed
through him whom we recognize as outwardly like ourselves.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
The first choice uses the language of the Gospel - about being pleasing to God. The second, however, reaches deeper and challenges us to be "inwardly transformed through him we recognize as outwardly like ourselves."  At baptism, each of us laid aside the old person and put on Christ. This second prayer reminds us that although baptism is a one-time event, the transformation it calls forth in us is something we must continually seek.  

The Prayer After Communion calls us to become God's children "in name and in truth":
Nourished with these sacred gifts,
we humbly entreat your mercy, O Lord,
that, faithfully listening to your Only Begotten Son,
we may be your children in name and in truth.
Through Christ our Lord.
Today's feast is a reminder that being a faithful Christian is not simply a matter of going through the motions, but of an inward authenticity that matches our actions. It is more than simply the end of a liturgical season, but an important reminder that Jesus, who "has appeared in our very flesh" constantly calls us to become more like him.

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