Growing up, at one time or another, all of us remember getting into trouble with our parents. We either didn’t listen to them, we did what we were told not to do, or we did something without telling them, or we got into trouble at school and the news got back to them. Either way, we had to face the consequences – the punishment imposed by them.
But you know, out of all the punishments that we may have needed to endure as children growing up, I think the worse kind of punishment was to see the expression of pain, sorrow and disappointment on the face of our parents as a result of our actions. It is an expression difficult to forget.
Those are moments when we realize how much our parents truly love us; and how much inner pain we cause them when we betray their trust and when we dishonor them by our misbehavior.
This realization is what usually challenges us to grow up: to change our attitudes and our way of life. It is at such moments that we say to ourselves: I never want to do that again. I never again want to be the cause of pain, sorrow or disappointment to my parents.
In our relationship with God, true and abiding repentance is very much the same. The most profound conversion in our life occurs when we realize how much God loves us; and how much we offend His love for us when we sin. It’s like looking into the face of Jesus and seeing His infinite love for us, and yet at the same time, seeing His expression of pain and suffering, pain which has been caused by our sins and our behavior.
As we heard in the Gospel reading today, this is the kind of repentance and genuine conversion that thousands of people experienced, when they heard the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness of the Jordan.
His words were so inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit that they would cut deep into the hearts of his listeners; they moved people in the very depths of their being.
Thousands came to John and openly confess their sins, asking him to baptize them in water. And He did. He baptized them with the baptism of repentance, as a sign of their inner conversion and change of heart.
In the Old Testament, larger bodies of water were symbolic of destruction and death. Springs, or bubbling streams may have been symbolic of life, yet larger bodies of water, deep enough to drown in, were definitely symbols of death.
So when people came to John confessing their sins, he immersed them into water as an outward sign of the inner repentance. (The word “to baptize” means “to immerse.”)
They were immersed into the water as a sign that their old attitudes and old ways were being destroyed, put to death. Then they rose from the water as a sign that they would begin anew in their relationship with God, faithful to His commandments and to His word. It was an outward ritual that expressed in a profound way what was happening on the inside, on the level of their heart.
Although John’s baptism of repentance did not have the power to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit, nor to completely forgive all sins as our Baptism does, there is a sense in which people came to be washed of their sins.
At least in a symbolic way, they came to leave their past life and sins in the waters of the Jordan.
The question then that arises in our minds is this: Why would Jesus come to the Jordan to be baptized by John? If He was without sin, then there was no need for Him to repent.
John at first, refused to baptize Jesus, protesting that it was he who needed to be baptized by Jesus.
But Jesus insisted, saying that it was the will of His Heavenly Father and John in obedience complied.
As we prepare for the feast of Theophany on January 6th, it is worth reflecting on two very good reasons why Jesus willingly choose to be baptized by John in the River Jordan.
First, Jesus came to the river Jordan not to leave His sins in the waters, but to take upon Himself the sins of the world left behind in the waters. People from all of Judea and Jerusalem came to be baptized and to leave their sins in the waters of the Jordan. Jesus came to the Jordan to take those sins upon Himself.
In our own baptism, we too, came to the waters of the Jordan and left all the sins of our life in those baptismal waters. Jesus has taken all them upon Himself in the moment of His own baptism.
Second, by willing entering the waters of the Jordan to be baptized, Jesus was opening confirming His willingness to enter into death. Having taken upon Himself the sins of the world, we would willingly accept death on the cross in order to conquer sin and death and the power of the evil one.
His rising from the waters of the Jordan, pointed to His future resurrection, the appearance of the Holy Spirit anointing Him, pointed to the future outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the opening of the heavens was a sign that the gates to Heaven would soon be opened for all.
God the Father would soon welcome His beloved children into the kingdom of Heaven and everlasting life.
The message of today’s Gospel, on this Sunday before Theophany is this: Are you ready? Have you prepared the way for the Lord to your heart? If not, clear the way with genuine repentance; prepare to receive your king, for the kingdom of God is at hand.