By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu cssp
Homily for the Baptism of the Lord - based on the Epistle
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The Grace of Baptism

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7 Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Years ago, there was a conference in England to discuss the question, “What makes Christianity different from all the other religions of the world?” At the conference, some suggested that Christianity is unique in its teaching that God became a human being. It was pointed out that the Hindu religion has many instances of God coming to earth as human. Others suggested that it is the belief in the resurrection. Again it was pointed out that other faiths believe that the dead rise again. The debate grew loud and heated until C. S. Lewis, the great defender of Christianity, came in. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked. When he was told that it was a question of the uniqueness of Christianity, he said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

On this feast day of the Baptism of the Lord, the second reading from the Letter to Titus focuses not on Jesus but on us as people who have been saved through the grace of baptism. “For when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). Here we see the meaning of grace. G-R-A-C-E spells God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. The salvation we have received is not in payment for any good works we might have done but a free and unconditional gift of God. In baptism God wipes away all our sins and no longer holds us accountable for them.

C.S. Lewis is right when he says that the doctrine of grace makes the Christian faith unique among all other faiths. Other religions hold that God rewards the just and punished the wicked. We have all heard about the Hindu law of karma that holds that we must pay for every sinful thought, word, and deed that we do, and that if we do not pay for them satisfactorily in this life, then we shall reincarnate and come back to life on earth to continue paying for them. The Christian faith also believes in the justice of God. As St Paul admonished us “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9). But we also believe that God forgives us our trespasses and treats us much better than we deserve. This is grace. This is unmerited favour. Baptism which makes us God’s children in a special way is a good example of grace.

There are no preconditions for receiving God’s grace. That is why even babies can receive baptism. There are no requirements, but there are consequences. This is brought out in today’s second reading: “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (Titus 2:11-12). God’s grace brings us salvation, but it also requires us henceforth to renounce worldliness and embrace godliness. To receive God’s grace is free and unconditional. But to remain in God’s grace demands a response from us. This response is, on the one hand, that we say no the devil and to the temptation to run our own lives according to our selfish and worldly inclinations, and, on the other hand, that we submit to God and lead our lives in submission to God’s holy will. In order words, we who have received the grace of baptism must endeavour to live up to our baptismal promises.

As we celebrate today the baptism of our lord Jesus in the Jordan, let us thank God for the free gift of salvation through the grace of baptism. Let us also earnestly ask him for the grace to keep us faithful to our baptismal promises to say no to Satan and all his false promises and to say yes to God even unto death.

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