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Baptism of the Lord
by Paul Turner

The Christmas season comes to its close when we celebratethe Baptism of the Lord, an event recorded in all four Gospels. To begin his public ministry, Jesus presented himself to be baptized by John the Baptist, and God manifested Jesus as the divine Son.

Because we associate baptism with the forgiveness of sins, the idea that the sinless Jesus would undergo baptism seems out of place. The evangelists must have thought the same; as a whole, they downplay the incident. But the baptism of Jesus had nothing to do with forgiveness; it had everything to do with manifestation. It was a new beginning because it publicly revealed Jesus’ identity, and that testimony came not from just any witness but from God.

Three incidents in the Bible are traditionally called the “epiphany”events or the “manifestations” of Jesus, newly arrived on the biblical scene: the visit of the magi, the baptism, and the miracle at the wedding in Cana. Prior to 1969 we heard all three of these Scriptures in successive weeks: Jan. 6, Jan. 13, and on the following Sunday. All three storiesform a unit because they progressively reveal the identity, the authority and the power of Jesus.

In today’s calendar the Sunday readings spread over a three-year cycle. On the Baptism of the Lord we hear a different evangelist’s account each year. Only in year C does the following Sunday feature the Gospel of the wedding at Cana to unify the three celebrations.

In the United States we celebrate Epiphany on a Sunday. But in countries where the Epiphany is a holy day of obligation, it is celebrated on Jan.6. In the United States, the Baptism of the Lord is usually the Sunday after the Epiphany, but if Epiphany comes late, falling on Jan. 6 or 7, the Baptism of the Lord falls goes to the next day, Jan.7 or 8, a Monday, in order to make room for the weeks of ordinary time.

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Copyright © 1999, Resource Publications, Inc. 160 E. Virginia St. #290, San Jose, CA 95112, (408) 286-8505. This article may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher.  For permission e-mail info@rpinet.com.
Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.

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