YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
HOMILY THEME: BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
BY: Fr. Ben Agbo
HOMILY: * Is 42 : 1 – 7, Act 10 : 34 – 38, Matt 3 : 13 – 17.
The greatest challenge of modern day Christianity is making Christians understand the mystery of Baptism. Pope John Paul II trying to rise up to this challenge has added 5 more mysteries of light to the full rosary. The 1st mystery of light unveils the baptism of our Lord as a Holy Ghost baptism different in quality from the baptism of John – the baptism of repentance.
In the gospel of today, John wonders why Jesus ( being the perfect Messiah) would submit himself for baptism. But Jesus insists that Christians must do all that righteousness demands. This is why baptism is a very important sacrament in the Church – the sacrament of initiation into membership of the Christian fold. In Luke’s account, John made it clear that the baptism in the name of Jesus, supercedes his in quality : ‘I baptize you with water, but someone is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’, Lk 3 : 15 – 22. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is therefore a baptism of fire/ transformation since fire is the symbol of change / transformation.
B. HOW BAPTISM WORKS
Baptism does not work mechanically. Baptism saves us not by mere washing of bodily dirt, ‘but by a pledge of a good conscience’, 1 Pet 2 : 21. When we baptize Christians ( even as infants) we must press duty upon them and direct them to the transforming grace of Christ. The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
John was an affectionate, practical, evangelical, popular and copious preacher. But he was not a cosmetic preacher. He didn’t mince words in directing people towards repentance. He was a repentance preacher not a prosperity preacher.
A fervent prayer life must therefore accompany the sacrament of baptism for it to be efficacious. What was promised even to Christ, was obtained through prayer. When he prayed, the heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove.
C. THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Trinity. And there is a demonstration of the Trinity at the beginning of Christ’s baptism ; 1. The voice of the father was heard, 2. The physical presence of Jesus, the Son, 3. The impartation of the Holy Spirit in form of a dove.
- Dove was the most innocent of all the birds, See Noah’s dove, Gen 8 : 8.
The secret power behind Jesus’ ministry on earth is the power of the Holy Spirit that descended upon him after baptism and his continued fellowship in prayer with the Holy Spirit. According to Benny Hiln, ‘The reason why the Church and so many people in it have become so defeated is that it has ignored the most powerful person in the universe – the Holy Spirit’. In his analogy ( though imperfect) of the trinitarian communion, he uses what happens i in electricity as example ; 1. Through the command of God the father, the world was created ( Electrical connection is made), 2. Through the action of God the Son, salvation was achieved ( switch is put on), and 3. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the world is sanctified ( light glows in the filament). He goes on to speak about 3 levels of anointing ; 1. The leper’s anointing, Lev 14, we get forgiveness of sin / salvation by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, 2. The priestly anointing, Act 2, we receive anointing for vocational service and ministry. This comes by fellowship with Jesus, 3. The kingly anointing, Act 1 : 8, here we receive power and authority over evil spirits. This comes by obeying Jesus and exercizing our faith.
Many Christians are not able to come to this level.
When the Holy Spirit came to Moses, plagues came upon Egypt, Ex 7, 8, 9 & 10. When it came over Elijah, fire came down from heaven, 1 Kg 18. When it came over Joshua, the whole city of Jericho fell into his hands, Josh 6. When it came over Jesus at his baptism, he began teaching and healing. He suffered on the Cross, died and rose again. After the Pentecost, the same Holy Spirit has come to descend upon his faithful followers. It is the same Holy Spirit in operation in Martyrs ( eg St Stephen), missionaries, married couples who persevere in fidelity, monks in the desert, in the sacraments of the Church ( especially the Eucharist), in the Catholic priesthood ( making them remain faithful celibates), consoles us in moments of loss and disasters ( Rom 5 : 1 – 3) and also operates in our pious societies like the Charismatic renewal, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Legion of Mary, etc. According to Vima Dasan, ‘Whenever the Holy Spirit comes into any believer, he makes Christ dearer, makes heaven nearer and the Word of God clearer’.
As God’s voice confirmed that Jesus was His beloved Son, God will confirm us as His sons this year by manifesting His power more clearly in our lives. We only need to learn to obey Jesus more ( through an avid study of the scriptures and listening to the Church) and exercising our faith more practically, Mk 16 : 18.
Unless our baptism becomes a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire ; unless our baptism becomes a baptism of transformation, Christianity in this part of the world remains not different from a mere social club. Happy Sunday dear friends!