THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
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The celebration of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas season. But before we draw the season to a close, I’d like to look back to the beginning of the season, to midnight Mass on Christmas. At this Mass we heard the gospel of the angel announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds. “I proclaim to you good news of great joy… for today in the City of David a savior has been born for you…” And then a multitude of heavenly host sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk 2:1-14).
That last line is familiar to us as the opening words of the Gloria, one of the oldest Christian hymns, sung at Masses around the world on Sundays and solemnities. You could say that the Church has not stopped singing this song of praise ever since it was proclaimed by the angels on that first Christmas night. Astute readers may notice a shift in translation from past days. The former English translation is “peace to men of good will.” Why the change?
In his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI talks about the meaning of this line. “The literal translation of the original Greek,” he writes, can be rendered either “peace to men of good pleasure,” or, “to men with whom He is pleased.” The Pope Emeritus poses the question, “Who enjoys God’s ‘good pleasure’? And why?”
There are other times the scriptures speak about those with whom God is pleased. In the prophet Isaiah we read, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased” (Is 42:1). The verses following speak of this one bringing about justice, “the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor” (CCC 1807).
We hear the same words in this Sunday’s gospel. After Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan river, “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).
Jesus is the one with whom God is “well pleased.” Why? Because He is the perfect Image of the Father. This means He is completely oriented toward the Father. He is completely focused on Him. He is in complete union of will with the Father. Everything Jesus thinks and does is in right relation with God and neighbor. By definition, everything He does is an act of justice.
Jesus pleases the Father as no one else does. He is the only begotten Son. He alone is the Holy One (as we sing in the Gloria). Christ’s pure and perfect life can please God in a way that our fallen and sinful lives never can — on their own.
But now we return to the angels’ words that announced His birth. “Peace to those with whom He is pleased.” These words are not directed at Jesus, but to the shepherds and by extension all of humanity. Jesus is the beloved Son in whom God is well pleased. But with His arrival in our midst we, too, can be pleasing to God. Those “with whom God is pleased,” writes Pope Benedict, “are those who share the attitude of the Son — those who are conformed to Christ.”
When we are baptized we are conformed to Christ. Through the sacramental waters we join ourselves to the mystery of Jesus; His passion, death, and resurrection. But being conformed to Christ is a life-long task. Throughout our lives as Christians, infused by His grace, we should be molding ourselves after the pattern of the One in whom God is well pleased.
If nothing else, Christmas is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to enter into communion with God who has become man for us. It is an opportunity to become one of those in whom God is well pleased. We do so by conforming ourselves to His beloved Son. As we enter into Ordinary Time, let us continue to allow God’s Spirit to conform us to His Son each day.