We are a little more than a week into the new year and many of us have most likely decided we would try to do some things differently in our lives as the new year begins. This usually leads to resolutions being made in hopes of putting into practice a new and healthier way of life. This new and healthier way of life may include giving more time to prayer and spiritual reflection. It may also include helping those who are in need of care and comfort, those who are impoverished and those who are lonely. But so often we only focus on physical health and not on our spiritual health, not realizing that when we get our spiritual health into shape it leads to greater success in getting ourselves in good physical shape. How we start this new year can indicate for us where we may be at the end of the year. Where we start gives us direction to where we are going.

As we celebrate The Baptism of the Lord this Sunday, we come to know where Jesus is going from where he is starting, at the Jordan River. We then come to know who he is and what he brings to humanity because the Scriptures for this Sunday provide us those answers. Let us first begin with John the Baptist and the baptism he was offering the people at the Jordan. John was calling the people to prepare themselves for one who was coming that was mightier than he. “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Lk. 3:16) John — in his answer to the people who asked if he was the Christ — reveals that his baptism is preparation for the Christ who is to come and not a washing away of sins as our baptism in Christ does for us.

Jesus, in presenting himself to John at the Jordan, does not need this baptism of preparation, which is an atonement. Jesus’ baptism serves as a revelation to God’s unfolding plan of salvation. “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Beloved Son: with you I am well pleased.” (Lk. 3:21-22) This revelation inaugurates the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. From the moment Jesus steps out of the Jordan, those first steps lead to Calvary. It will be in Jesus’ public ministry when he heals the afflicted and forgives the sinner that people will come to know that Jesus is the Christ. Even though this had been revealed at the Jordan by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, it will be the public ministry of Jesus that leads him to Calvary.

The First Reading from Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 describes the ministry of the prophesied Christ, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusa­lem and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.” (Is. 40:1-2) The signs of this coming to fulfillment are seen in the person of John the Baptist who is the precursor of the Lord, “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!” (Is. 40:3) The fulfillment of these prophesied promises are seen in how Jesus himself fills in every valley and how he makes low every mountain, by how he removes all the obstacles and barriers from our being, forgiving our sins and receiving new life. This comes with those final steps toward Calvary, which lead to Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. This is where our own baptism flows from: the blood of the cross. The Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to Titus tells us how the obstacles of sin and death were removed for all humanity: “Our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good. He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7)

From the first steps out of the Jordan, we are brought forth to Calvary through the waters of regeneration. Psalm 104 provides us a great and magnificent poetic description of the God of all creation. “When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” From Jesus’ baptism to our baptism, we are made new.