Sermon: The Baptism of Our Lord

Fra Angelico’s Baptism of Christ

Today is a feria, a word that means weekday and, liturgically speaking, a day when no saint is celebrated, so the readings for the day are the readings we had this past Sunday: The Baptism of Our Lord.

Much of what God continues to do today was prefigured in what he did early on. For the baptism of our Lord, we can begin, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” but it becomes more apparent if we move a little further along in history to the great flood, to when God became grieved because of our sinfulness. “The Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Noah built the Ark and was saved from the rising waters that covered the entire face of the earth. When the rain stopped, Noah sent forth a raven that found no place to rest, then a dove that also returned. Seven days later, he sent forth another “dove out of the ark. And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf.” The waters raged, yet Noah and all with him on the Ark were saved. When God’s wrath was complete, a dove was sent forth and brought back the olive leaf, a sign of peace.

We read today, “When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” There are the waters and the dove, but what of the olive leaf, the sign of peace? St. Paul tells us, “For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20) The olive leaf becomes the cross, the sign of peace established between God and us.

The events of Noah prefigured what God would accomplish through his Son and what continues to happen with us. In our baptism, through water and the Holy Spirit, we are baptized into the death—the cross—and resurrection of Jesus.

St. John Chrysostom writes in his commentary, “The dove is a gentle and pure creature. Since then, the Spirit, too, is ‘a Spirit of gentleness,’ he appears in the form of a dove, reminding us of Noah, to whom, when once a common disaster [the flood] had overtaken the whole world and humanity was in danger of perishing, the dove appeared as a sign of deliverance from the tempest, and bearing an olive branch, published the good tidings of a serene presence over the whole world. All these things were given as a type of things to come. . . . In this case, the dove also appeared, not bearing an olive branch, but pointing to our Deliverer from all evils, bringing hope filled with grace. For this dove does not simply lead one family out of an ark, but the whole world toward heaven at her appearing. And instead of a branch of peace from an olive tree, she conveys the possibility of adoption for all the world’s offspring in common.”

“She conveys adoption of all the world’s offspring,” making us the very children of God. God has been working out our salvation since the day of the fall in the Garden of Eden, and it all hinged upon the Cross, the means and sign of peace between our God and us. 

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