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Behold: the foundation of Baptism

father-terry-keehan-baptismal-renewal     The Christmas season was shortened this year because of the entire week between the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Day.  The shortened schedule meant that The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord was moved to Monday, the day after Epiphany, instead of a normal weekend celebration.  Next year will be the exact opposite as the Fourth Sunday of Advent will also be Christmas Eve and, thus, the Christmas season will be marked by the usual feasts from Sunday evening Christmas Eve, December 24, until Sunday, January 14, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which always concludes the Christmas season.

However, we are not finished with the baptismal imagery yet this year as our Gospel this weekend tells us of the Baptist’s reflection on the significant event of Jesus’ Baptism. John confesses that he didn’t know Jesus, but he tells us what he saw and testified, namely that Jesus is the son of God.  He also says that he saw Jesus coming towards him and he was moved to use a word that I love to talk about.  The word is “Behold.”

When you look at something really important, really significant, really beautiful—you don’t just look at it, you take a long admiring look.  You scrutinize it. You appreciate it. Using another word, you behold it.  When we behold something, we see into it.  We let it lead us into something deeper.  We see it for what it is and what it truly means, and what it can become. Art museums are filled with benches and seats near priceless pieces because people want to sit and behold them to deepen their appreciation for them, to let their beauty speak to them.

In the scriptures the word behold is also used as somewhat of an announcement, or even a proclamation, that something important is coming.   We just heard it used that way last weekend in the story of the Magi.  “Behold, wise men came from the east.”  This weekend we hear that John sees Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  The very next passage from the Gospel of John tells us that he uses the same words to tell two disciples to follow Jesus, not him.  If there ever was a person in our Judeo Christian story who could have drawn disciples to himself, it was John the Baptist.  Instead, at the height of his career and popularity, he pointed people to Jesus and told them to follow him. He used his influence to help people focus on the real important person—Jesus Christ.

These passages give a foundation to the importance of our Baptism.  We here at Holy Family regularly remind each other of that importance more than most communities that I am aware of.  We regularly renew our baptismal promises.  Our church has been remodeled so that the baptismal font could be placed in the center of our worship space, constantly reminding us that we gather around our Baptism on a regular basis, not simply because we were once baptized. We regularly connect Baptism with the source and summit of our faith, the Eucharist.  We regularly baptize, mostly babies but occasionally an older child, during the celebration of the Eucharist, reminding ourselves of the original idea of Baptism, namely that we are WELCOMING a newcomer into the community.

This weekend Deacon Dennis Brown, Fr. Michael Sparough and I will preach about the importance of the community in the sacrament of Baptism.  Please see page 5 of this bulletin for more details about the connection of Baptism with our community, and the joy that comes with the new life of the sacrament.  We hope that you all appreciate the new life of infants and families that we are entrusted with welcoming.  I want to encourage us all to create an even more welcoming community and make Holy Family even holier with the new life that comes to us in Baptism.

When we make the sign of the cross on the babies’ foreheads we proclaim, “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.” I would like all of us to be even more attentive to that joy, especially during this year when reNEW is at the top of our list.  We will reNEW our baptismal promises even more than usual this year, because the immersion into the life giving waters of this community is not an event for one, but an opportunity for reNEWal for all.

In some of the accounts of the Baptism of Jesus we hear God claiming Jesus as his beloved.  reNEWing our baptismal promises is one more opportunity for us to really feel that affirmation for ourselves.  Each of us is a beloved child of God, and my hope is that we all feel so even more in the coming year.  Then, as beloved children of God, our Baptism encourages us to not simply bask in the feeling of that belovedness but to do something about it, to put it into action.  We are called to share the good news of our belovedness and that of the Gospel with those we meet and those who have forgotten their own belovedness.  reNEWing our Baptism means helping to form disciples in faith and building up the kingdom in which we live.

reNEWing our Baptism is not simply an individual commitment.  It means reconnecting ourselves with the community that forms us.  It also means forming ourselves as a beloved community and connecting with the rich imagery of the sacrament of Baptism that unites us.  Let us immerse ourselves in the life giving waters of Holy Family Catholic Community more deeply in 2017.  Let us carry the light of Christ more proudly in 2017, anoint with the oil of gladness more reverently, and clothe ourselves in Christ with greater dignity in 2017.

Let us reNEW our Baptism more fervently and welcome new life with even greater joy in 2017.

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