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The Baptism of the Lord

From earliest times The Baptism of the Lord was celebrated as a part of the Feast of Epiphany (6th January) which originally celebrated four events: the Nativity, the arrival of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the wedding at Cana. [By the 3-4th Century The Nativity had become a separate feast (25th December).]

The Baptism of the Lord became a separate feast in the Roman Rite in 1955. In the Catholic Church The Baptism of the Lord was at first assigned to 13th January [the octave, 8th day of Epiphany] but was later set (1970) for the first Sunday following the 6th January (Epiphany).

In countries where Epiphany is not observed as a Holy Day of Obligation its observance may be moved to a Sunday falling between 2nd January and 8th January. When Epiphany moves to 7th or 8th January The Baptism of the Lord is moved to the following Monday. A similar date for celebrations applies in the lectionaries of many Western Christian church denominations.
In Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches The Baptism of the Lord remains an integral part of the celebration of Epiphany which is celebrated on January 6th as The Great Feast of the Theophany. [In churches following the Julian Calendar this celebration falls on 19th January (Gregorian date)].

Celebration of The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Baptist (Mt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:7-11; Lk. 3:15-16, 21-22) and is considered in Christian tradition as one of the manifestations of God in the world. In the Eastern tradition The Baptism of the Lord is called the Theophany or Epiphany.

From earliest times the Christian tradition has held that The Baptism of the Lord represents the moment wherein Jesus sanctified the waters of baptism for all generations to come — baptised not for his sake but for humanity. The event of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan was called Theophany because in the baptism of Jesus by John, God was manifested as Trinity: through the Spirit (in the form of a dove) and the Divine Voice which pronounced from heaven, “You are my beloved Son...” and in Jesus manifested as God incarnate. Early preachers spoke of Jesus, the Christ, as the Light and of the people of the church baptised in the waters of Baptism; they are as “lights shining in the world.”

“Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptised; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.” (St Gregory Nazianzen c. 329–389)

In Orthodox Christianity the Baptism of the Lord is still called “The Feast of Lights.”

The Baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Jesus’ pubic ministry. From the moment of Jesus’ anointment by the power of the Holy Spirit he began his mission of healing and teaching going about “doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Baptism of Jesus

Christian Baptism

According to Christian teaching Christian Baptism, which is modelled upon the immersion in water experienced by Jesus and proselytes to Judaism [the Greek word baptisein means “to immerse” or “to plunge”], is called “the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” because it signifies and brings about a persons “birth” of water and the Spirit and the means by which one “can enter the kingdom of God” (cf. Titus 3:5; Jn. 3:5).

In “plunging” into the water of baptism a Christian is symbolically buried in Christ’s death and rises up in resurrection with him as a “new creature.” The baptismal waters are also called “enlightenment” because through them those receiving catechetical instruction are enlightening in their understanding (St. Justin, Apol. 1, 61, 12: PG 6, 421). The person receives the Word “the true light that enlightens every person” (cf. Jn. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:5; Heb. 10:32; Eph. 5:8) and becomes a light his or her self. (St. Gregory Of Nazianzus) [See Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1214, 1215, 1216.]

The Bat Kol

The imagery of a Divine Voice, often associated with a dove, and is found in Jewish literature. The rabbi’s speak of the Bat Kol (which means Daughter of a Voice) which is generally manifested as a voice delivering a Divine message proclaiming God’s will or judgment and associated with a disembodied voice; a voice heard but unseen. The kol (voice) that is heard may be quiet, as in the “still, small voice” heard by Elijah (I Kgs. 19:12, 13) or strong and authoritative as the voice of God at Sinai.

Sometimes the imagery of the Bat Kol is associated with the sound of a dove cooing. The Talmud relates a tale concerning R. Jose who entered the ruins of Jerusalem to pray. The prophet Elijah came and waited until he had finished his prayer, then asked, “My Son, what did you hear in the ruins?” R. Jose replied, “I heard a divine voice [a bat kol] cooing like a dove, saying: Woe to my children, for their sin caused me to have destroyed my house, burnt my temple and drove them to live among the nations” (Ber. 3a).

The Bat Kol was identified with a voice from heaven or the voice of God. The manner of the Bat Kol’s manifestation in the human realm, however, differed from the word of God received by the prophets, being seen as a lower level of gift to God to Israel, but at the same time as a mighty and powerful voice (Yoma 9b; Pes. R. 160a). The Bat Kol, however, was not the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit was understood in the Prophetic tradition, or linked with the Holy Spirit as portrayed in Christian tradition. In the baptismal scenes in the Gospels it is noted that first the Holy Spirit descends and then the Voice of God is heard (Mt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-22). The same can be said of the Transfiguration event (Mt. 17:1-8; Mk. 9:2-8; Lk. 9:28-36)—first the Holy Spirit descends and then the Voice speaks.

The absence of the Holy Spirit in late 1st Temple and post-exilic Judaism was not universally accepted as a finality, however. We find Rabbi Yohanan ben Nappaha explaining “Since the destruction of the Temple, the gift of prophecy has been taken away from the prophets and given to fools and children” (Baba Bathra 121b), an indication that the notion of the presence of the Holy Spirit had been removed from the learned yet continued to be heard. A similar sentiment is expressed in the New Testament, “I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children” (Mt. 11:25).

In post-exilic Judaism the Spirit of God [the Holy Spirit] is found identified Wisdom (Wis. 1:4,6). Wisdom is a spirit and a friend to man (1:6). Wisdom refuses to pardon the blasphemer. Wisdom is described as a spirit with 21 positive attributes (7:22-23) and Wisdom, the spirit, ruah, is a breath of the power of God (7:25). The understanding that the Holy Spirit continued to play an active role in the world is perhaps better explained by Rabbi Judan who noted “...It is to teach you that whoever preaches on the Torah in public merits that the Holy Spirit should rest on him. From whom do you learn this? From Solomon; for, because he discoursed on the Torah in public, he earned the privilege that the Holy Spirit rested on him and he composed three books, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Songs of Songs (Canticle of Canticle Rabbah). These notions of the Holy Spirit and the Divine voice from heaven help to clarify the association of the Divine voice [Bat Kol] and the Holy Spirit as accepted in Christianity.

Read more about the Bat Kol...

    Page Updated: 13 January, 2013    
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