Sunday, 13 January 2019 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is liturgically marking the last day of the current season of Christmas before we enter the Ordinary Time prior to the coming of the season of Lent in early March this year. On this day we commemorate the moment when the Lord Jesus was baptised at the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist, marking the occasion when the Lord finally began His ministry in this world after approximately thirty years since His birth.

St. John the Baptist was apprehensive at first when the Lord came up tp him asking to be baptised by him. He recognised Jesus as the One Whom he had been working all the while for, in order to prepare a straight path for His coming, and of Whom he had testified before the people, that not even he was worthy of untying the straps of His sandals, and how although he baptised with water, but the Lord would baptise them with the fire and the Holy Spirit.

But the Lord insisted despite St. John the Baptist’s reluctance, for everything was to be done in accordance with God’s will. The baptism of Our Lord Jesus was a momentous occasion, in which, the Lord Himself, God Incarnate in the flesh of Man, went through the same rite of passage as all of us the faithful people of God, just as by Him assuming His humanity has united His humanity to our own human existence.

The act of baptism itself, as St. John the Baptist performed it at the Jordan River, is a powerful symbol and reminder, that the people of God have been saved and liberated from slavery, as the Israelites in the ancient times were brought out of the land of Egypt where they were enslaved by the Egyptians and their Pharaoh. When the Pharaoh sent his army and chariots to chase after the Israelites, God opened the Red Sea before them and allowed them to pass through the sea unharmed.

Therefore, by the passing through the waters of the Red Sea, God’s people had been brought by the great power of God from slavery into freedom. And this is linked to another slavery by which not just the sons of Israel, but all mankind suffer from, that is the slavery to our sins. Sin is born out of disobedience and unwillingness to obey the will of God, and its consequence for us is death. Unless we are freed from the slavery of sin, we will surely perish.

This is where God revealed the great wonders of His love for each and every one of us, that even when we have sinned against Him, disobeyed His commandments and disregarded His will, but because God still loves us regardless of these wicked things we have done, He gives us a new hope and deliverance, just as He has once liberated His people from the tyranny of the Egyptians and their Pharaoh.

This time, He is liberating us from the greatest slavery that has enslaved all of us mankind, that is sin and death. And the symbolism of water that is used at baptism is indeed very profound, for water is both the symbol of death and life, as it can cause destruction by its powerful force, and yet, it is also necessary for the presence and propagation of life. Without water, life cannot exist, and water is essential for the maintenance of life.

By this symbolism of water, which is both used at the baptism of the Lord at the River Jordan, and in our own Christian baptism, the Holy Sacrament of Baptism, the Lord unites us all who have received this blessed and holy Sacrament, to His own experience of suffering and death, as well as to His glorious resurrection and triumph over sin and death itself. We share in the same redemptive experience that the people of Israel had experienced by the Red Sea and throughout the Exodus, and now we have even much more than that.

For God Himself has willingly endeavoured to save us, by His mighty deeds, in leading us out of the tyranny and enslavement by sin, through none other than His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Who is God incarnate, the Word of God made Man, through Whom God has given us our salvation. The Lord unites our own mortality to His own humanity, and gathers all of our unworthiness, our sufferings and pains, our sins and all the defilements present in us, and placing them upon Himself on the cross He bore, He became the source of our salvation and eternal life.

That is why, on the celebration of the Easter Vigil, on which day most people who are baptised as adults receive this blessed Sacrament of Baptism, we have the reading of the passage from Exodus on the salvation of Israel crossing through the Red Sea. Just as the Israelites passed on from their old life of slavery and suffering into a new life of blessing and grace with God, thus, we too, have passed on from our old life of sin and disobedience against God, into a new existence and life that is blessed and holy.

That is why, the Sacrament of Baptism is the first of the Sacraments to be received by any Christians. We received it either as a small infant, if we had been born into faithful, Christian families, or as someone who have desired and sought conversion to the true faith, and went through a period of instruction, after which we were baptised just as the Lord Himself was baptised in the Jordan.

At the moment of baptism, our old life and our old iniquities and sins are washed away and cleansed, and our existence is renewed and made blessed by God. Our old life and sin have been destroyed just as we share in the death of Christ on the cross. And through baptism, God made us all His adopted sons and daughters, just as at Baptism of the Lord Jesus, the voice of the Father was heard, “This is My Son, My Beloved. My favour rests on Him.”

This is why we have also been made the sons and daughters of God, by virtue of our shared humanity with Christ. If Christ is the Son of God, and if we are His brothers and sisters by our shared humanity, then we too can be called children of God. And because God has taken us to be His children, the fullness of His love and grace are slated to be ours. But we must also remember at the same time, that baptism is not the end of the journey for us.

Although baptism has erased the taints of original sin and the sins we have committed previous to our baptism, but this does not mean that we cannot sin anymore after our baptism. We are surely aware how many of us Christians keep on falling back again and again into sin, not listening to the will of God, our loving Father, and instead, preferring to follow the lies and falsehoods of Satan, the deceiver.

Satan knows that through baptism, he has lost his hold on us, and sin and death no longer has their grip on us. But, he still does not want to let us go, and as long as we still continue living in this world, our earthly existence, our bodies and our beings are still vulnerable to sin, and this is where the devil is trying very hard to try to pull us back into sin. And we must be careful lest we fall back into the same predicament, for if we live in a state of sin, we may yet fall into eternal damnation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we commemorate the glorious and wonderful moment of the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, let us all remember the moment of our own baptism. If we cannot remember it because we have been baptised as infants, then the least we can do is, try to remember the date and time of our baptism, by asking our godparents or parents, who surely can remember the time of that very crucial event in our life.

Let us today give thanks to God for the gift of baptism, in His willingness to take us as His adopted sons and daughters, and for the love which He has shown us, day after day. Baptism is only the beginning of a new journey in which we must make sure that we listen to the will of God. Baptism is the beginning of the time of grace and yet also struggle in which we must often face divisions and even persecutions for standing up to our faith.

May the Lord bless each and every one of us always, and may He allow us to remember the joy of our baptism, and that we may know what we need to do in our lives now that we have been made God’s own beloved children. Let us love Him more and more, each and every days of our life. Let our life and existence glorify God and let us proclaim the wonders of His love by our own loving actions to our fellow brethren. Amen.

Sunday, 13 January 2019 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Luke 3 : 15-16, 21-22

At that time, the people were wondering about John’s identity, “Could he be the Messiah?” Then John answered them, “I baptise you with water, but the One Who is coming will do much more : He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. As for me, I am not worthy to untie His sandal.”

Now, with all the people who came to be baptised, Jesus, too, was baptised. Then, while He was praying, the heavens opened : the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the bodily form of a Dove, and a voice from Heaven was heard, “You are My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”

Sunday, 13 January 2019 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Titus 2 : 11-14 and Titus 3 : 4-7

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, teaching us to reject an irreligious way of life and worldly greed, and to live in this world as responsible persons, upright and serving God, while we await our blessed Hope – the glorious manifestation of our great God and Saviour Christ Jesus.

He gave Himself for us, to redeem us from every evil and to purify a people He wanted to be His own and dedicated to what is good. But God our Saviour revealed His eminent goodness and love for humankind and saved us, not because of good deeds we may have done but for the sake of His own mercy, to the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit poured over us through Christ Jesus our Saviour, so that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Sunday, 13 January 2019 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 103 : 1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30

Clothed in majesty and splendour; o YHVH, my God, how great You are! You are wrapped in light as with a garment; You stretch out the heavens like a tent.

You build Your upper rooms above the waters. You make the clouds Your chariot and ride on the wings of the wind; You make the winds Your messengers, and fire and flame Your ministers.

How varied o YHVH, are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all – the earth, full of Your creatures. Behold the sea, wide and vast, teeming with countless creatures, living things, both great and small.

They all look to You for their food in due time. You give it to them, and they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are filled with good things.

When You hide Your face they vanish; You take away their breath, they expire and return to dust. When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and the face of the earth is renewed.

Sunday, 13 January 2019 : Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Isaiah 40 : 1-5, 9-11

Be comforted, My people, be strengthened, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, proclaim to her that her time of bondage is at an end, that her guilt has been paid for, that from the hand of YHVH she has received double punishment for all her iniquity.

A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way for YHVH. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be raised up; every mountain and hill will be laid low. The stumbling blocks shall become level and the rugged places smooth. The glory of YHVH will be revealed, and all mortals together will see it; for the mouth of YHVH has spoken.”

Go up onto the high mountain, messenger of Good News to Zion, lift up your voice with strength, fear not to cry aloud when you tell Jerusalem and announce to the cities of Judah : Here is your God! Here comes YHVH Sabaoth with might; His strong arm rules for Him; His reward is with Him, and here before Him is His booty. Like a shepherd He tends His flock : He gathers the lambs in His arms, He carries them in His bosom, gently leading those that are with young.

Saturday, 12 January 2019 : Saturday after the Epiphany (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the story in the Gospel passage, of the exchange between St. John the Baptist and his disciples, as they discussed about the actions of the Lord Jesus, Whom at that time was rising in popularity, having begun His ministry in this world after His own baptism by St. John the Baptist. The disciples of St. John the Baptist were wary and concerned that their own master was being eclipsed in importance and prestige by this seemingly new Teacher and Prophet.

But St. John the Baptist said in all humility before all of them, acknowledging that although he might be decreasing in importance, but more importantly is that the Lord, his Master, of Whom he had spoken, was rising in importance. As the servant of God, he had done all that he could do and was called to do, in order to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord’s Saviour. And now that the Saviour has finally come and revealed Himself, his struggles and hard works were coming to an end.

St. John the Baptist could have been angry and jealous at the apparent competition from the Lord Jesus, had his intentions and desires in serving the Lord be one that was selfish and wrong. Instead, he humbled himself and fulfilled what the Lord had commanded him to do, preparing the path and making the way of the Lord straight. He trusted in God and His will, and devoted himself to serve the intentions of God, that is the salvation of mankind.

What is important was not personal ambitions or desires, but instead, the spiritual well-being and the salvation of all those who have fallen into the pit of sin. St. John the Baptist knew this very well, as he called those multitudes of people to repentance, constantly reminding them of the imminent coming of the kingdom of God. To him, what matters was not that of popularity or worldly glory and praise, but rather, that God’s people turn their hearts once again towards Him that they may be saved.

And then, just as St. John the Baptist had done, the Lord Jesus also devoted Himself to the mission entrusted to Him by His heavenly Father, that is the salvation of all of God’s people. He did not do all the things for personal glory, or fame, or ambition, but instead for the greater glory of His Father, and for the good of all those to whom He has been sent, all those whom His Father has bestowed on Him to shepherd.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, thus this is what each and every one of us as Christians are expected to do, in following the good examples set by Our Lord and Saviour Himself, and by His servant, the faithful St. John the Baptist. We ought to be humble, be selfless and be obedient in all of our daily dealings and actions, not aiming to satisfy our own ego, ambition and selfish desires, but instead, putting our faith, trust and focus on God and God alone.

Each and every one of us as Christians have this important obligation, to be faithful to God, and then to propagate this faith in our own communities. We are called to be role models for our fellow brethren, by our own faithful actions in life, imitating rightly what the saints had done, and walking in the footsteps of the Lord Himself. After all, brothers and sisters in Christ, we must remember that God gave everything for us, even to the point of suffering unimaginable pain and suffering, and dying for us on the cross.

Let us therefore discover a new purpose in our life, that is to love and serve God, by everything we say and do, and by our every actions in life. May the Lord be with us always, and may He continue to show us His loving and compassionate mercy, each and every days of our life. May He bring us ever closer to Him, so that we may grow deeper in our faith, and remove from ourselves, all sorts of ego, ambition, pride and hubris. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, 12 January 2019 : Saturday after the Epiphany (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

John 3 : 22-30

At that time, Jesus went into the territory of Judea with His disciples. He stayed there with them and baptised. John was also baptising in Aenon, near Salim, where water was plentiful; people came to him and were baptised. This happened before John was put in prison.

Now John’s disciples had been questioned by a Jew about spiritual cleansing, so they came to John and said, “Rabbi, the One Who was with you across the Jordan, and about Whom you spoke favourably, is now baptising, and all are going to Him.”

John answered, “No one can receive anything, except what has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him.’ Only the bridegroom has the bride; but the friend of the bridegroom stands by and listens, and rejoices to hear the bridegroom’s voice. My joy is now full. It is necessary that He increase, but that I decrease.”