If there is one thing on which I am very emphatic in the way that I raise my children in the faith, it is that Christmas is not a single day — it is a full SEASON, and it continues until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Well, of course, I emphasize many other things as well, but this one I make sure to drive home.
Christmas is one of the most special times of the liturgical year, and as such, we celebrate it for about two weeks. During that stretch, we contemplate Our Lord’s birth in the context of other feast days: the Holy Family, the Holy Innocents, Mary the Mother of Our Lord, the Epiphany, and finally, the Baptism of Jesus.
On a personal note, I love this extended Christmas season not only because of its’ original meaning, but also because my wedding anniversary always falls during this time. My husband and I married on the vigil of the Baptism of the Lord, and so each year we celebrate our anniversary during the Christmas season. I love that we linger over Christmas each year! Why hurry to rush back to Ordinary Time? Although Ordinary Time holds its own appeal, we have plenty of time for that later.
And so, when Christmas finally comes to an end, we have a celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord. I never paid much attention to this designation on the liturgical calendar until recently, when I connected it with my wedding, as I mentioned above. I did a little research. As a librarian, I live for such opportunities!
I wondered why this feast is placed specifically at this point of the liturgical calendar, right when we are spending time contemplating Jesus as a newborn. We know that Jesus was baptized as an adult, right before beginning His public ministry. What do the two events have in common?
Jesus’s birth is a demonstration to us of God’s love and administration of grace. It is also an example of humility. So too, is Jesus’s baptism at the hands of John. Jesus did not need to be baptized in the same way that we do, but yet he did so anyway, as an example to us of humility and obedience. How grateful we should be for the grace of this sacrament, which cleanses us in such a unique way. Baptism was not necessary for Jesus, but it certainly is for us.
During Advent we prepare for Jesus’s birth, and then during Christmas, we reflect on the love and beauty of the Incarnation. When we come to the end of Christmas at this point of January, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord calls to mind all of the opportunities for grace that we have because God sent us His Son. We have the Church, and we have the sacraments. We are going to stumble and fall sometimes, but we always have the sacraments to strengthen us. We just have to have the humility to seek them out.
Now we go forth into Ordinary Time, enjoying the different saint feast days and other liturgical observances on the way to Ash Wednesday and Lent, when our focus shifts anew. Although Christmas is now over, seeing it as the fullness of the season as presented by the Church helps me to appreciate, throughout the year, the lessons that I take away from it.
How about you? Does the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord have personal significance to you? What about other feasts that we celebrate during the Christmas season such as the Epiphany or the Holy Family?