Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (C)
Picture: cc Nathan
Sisters and brothers, have you ever noticed this tendency among some little children? A certain behaviour that I for one find very interesting. As you know, little children cry for many different reasons. And one common reason is because they are looking for their mothers. So imagine a child crying for its absent mother. When she finally comes back, do you think the child will stop crying? Well, you’d expect it to stop, right? Since the one it was crying for has already returned. But don’t we often see children continue to cry, even after their mothers are back? And, what’s perhaps even more interesting, is that they sometimes cry even louder when they see their mother. Why do you think that’s so?
I’m no child psychologist, but if I were to hazard a guess, I think there are three possible reasons why a child continues to cry. The first is blindness. Or a lack of awareness. The child is too engrossed in its own grief, and fear, and self-pity. It is crying so hard and so loudly, it doesn’t even notice that it’s mother has actually come back. The second possible reason is protest. At first, the child cries for its mother. But then, after the mother returns, it continues to cry as a form of complaint. As a way of scolding its mother for having left it alone.
And, finally, the third possible reason is something that’s best expressed by a local Malay word. Which I’m not sure how exactly to translate. The word is manja. And it means something like attention-seeking. Or wishing to be pampered. If the child stops crying as soon as the mother returns, she may very quickly go back to her own business. So the child cries a little longer. Why? To get the mother to shower it with TLC. Tender loving care. To get her to hug and kiss the child. Reassure it of her presence. Remind it of her love. Perhaps even promise never to leave it alone again. There there. Mommy is here. Mommy loves you. Mommy won’t go away anymore…
Blindness, protest, and manja. Three possible reasons why a child keeps crying. And the loving mother’s response to all this is the same. She cuddles and consoles. Reminds and reassures. Promises not to leave again. And she keeps doing this. Until the message finally gets through. Until the child stops crying. I wonder if something like this isn’t true also of the Christmas Season, which comes to an end today. Isn’t this what we find in our Mass readings for this feast of the Baptism of the Lord?
In our readings today, we find people needing to be consoled. People who experience a deep longing. Who yearn for the presence of God. Isn’t this why the first reading begins with God calling the prophet to console my people, console them? And the gospel speaks of how, among the people of Jesus’ day, a feeling of expectancy had grown? Whether they care to admit it or not, the people in our readings are all crying out for God.
And can’t we identify with them? Don’t we ourselves experience a deep longing for God? In many and various ways, don’t we too cry out for consolation? Isn’t our longing sometimes so desperate that, like those people in the gospel, we too seem willing to settle for less than God. We too tend to mistake God’s messengers for God Himself. Even our indulgence in sinful habits is itself a warped way of looking for God. Of looking for love in all the wrong places. As someone once said, even the one who knocks on the door of a prostitute is looking for God. And we could say the same of pornography and gambling. Alcohol and drugs. Even shopping and overwork. In many different ways we are all crying out for our mothers. Desperately waiting for God to come back and console us.
And yet, isn’t God already here? As Christians, don’t we believe that, in Christ, God has already come among us? Isn’t this what we celebrate at Christmas? The coming of Emmanuel. God-with-us. God, who promises never to leave us. God, who binds us to Himself in Christ. With a bond that can never be broken. Why then do we continue to cry? Perhaps it’s for the same reasons why little children cry even after their mothers have returned. Blindness, protest, and manja. We cry because we allow our grief and sorrow to blind us to God’s presence and action in our lives. We cry because we are angry at God for having left us in the first place. We cry because we just want to experience some TLC from God. And to our blindness, and protest, and manja, God responds in the same way a loving mother does. God keeps cuddling and consoling us. Keeps reminding and reassuring us. Promising us of God’s ongoing presence and action in our lives.
Isn’t this what the Christmas Season is about? It is a time for us to allow God to console us. To pacify us. To address our grief and our fears. Our anger and our sorrow. And isn’t this the deeper meaning of this feast of the Baptism of the Lord? Why does Jesus allow himself to be immersed in the waters of the Jordan? Not to have his sins forgiven. For he has no sins to confess. But to express his deep solidarity with us all. The river into which he enters is the flowing stream of our human reality. With all its joys and sorrows. Its fears and desires.
Which is why it is no accident that our readings pair up the scene of our Lord’s descent into the Jordan with the image of a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast. Much like a mother cuddling her crying child. In the Lord’s Baptism, our God is really consoling his people. Comforting you and me. Reassuring us of God’s presence and action among us. Promising never to leave us.
The second reading goes even further. It reminds us of God’s motivation for consoling us. It was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us. Like any loving mother, and unlike Santa Claus, God consoles us not because we are or have been good. But because God is loving and compassionate. Kind and merciful.
But that’s not all. there is one more important aspect to Christmas. For, in addition to Jesus, our readings today present us with another person for us to ponder. Someone that we’ve already met in the weeks of Advent. John the Baptist. He is not the Christ. He is not the mother of the child. But he too is called to console those who cry. The blind, the protesting, and the manja alike. John’s role is to help prepare them to receive God’s consolation. Like a domestic helper. Or a concerned friend or relative or babysitter. John consoles not by drawing the child to himself. But by directing it to its mother. Someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am… he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
And isn’t this the role that all of us Christians are called to play. A role that catechists fulfil in their own a special way. More than just teachers of doctrine, we are all called to be ministers of consolation. First to allow ourselves to be consoled by Christ. And then to share this same consolation with others.
Sisters and brothers, as we leave the Christmas Season, and enter into Ordinary Time, how are you being invited to share in the ministry of consolation today?