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Bishop's Baptism of the Lord Homily

January 10, 2016

[St. Anthony Church, Kalihi (100th Anniversary);
St. Stephen Diocesan Center, Kaneohe (Institution of Lectors for Deacon Formation Class)]
[Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16,21-23]

He plunged in, took the leap, went in all the way. He was immersed, inundated, soaked, baptized. The sinless Jesus, God-made-flesh, went where sinners were trying to wash away their sins, to repent, to return to the ways of God that they had abandoned. Yet they could only go so far, because the gates of Paradise had been closed centuries before after the sin of our first parents, and the tree of life that remained in Paradise was guarded by an angel with a flaming, revolving sword. He had no need to be there, but he wanted others to arrive at the Promised Land. So, just as the Ark of the Covenant went into the waters of the Jordan to enable the wandering people of Israel to finally enter the Promised Land, Jesus, the fulfillment of the covenant, went into the waters of the Jordan to be the Way for us sinners to cross over into the promised land of the kingdom of God. The heavens were rent open and the gates to Paradise were finally open to those who recognized their need for God’s mercy. But there was still that angel with the flaming sword, and Jesus knew that the only way to go through was to be soaking wet, so that the fire could not harm him, and to be slain by the sword, so that he could finally be the first to climb up on the tree of life. And now, for us sinners the Way is open, we have access to the tree of life, and if we embrace that cross, we can now eat of the fruit of the tree of life and live forever. That fruit, of course, is Jesus himself, God-with-us who makes us one with God and restores us to what was lost so that we, like him, can be God’s beloved sons and daughters.

But how many people still do not know that all these wonderful things have happened? How many have no idea that the darkness of this earth, with its sickness, its anxieties, its wars and violence, its self-absorption, and its fatal rejection of God, is already a world bathed in light? How many do not know that the Promised Land is already accessible, that the Way is already open, that the tree of life is already offering its fruit to us, and that it is right here?

As we rejoice that Jesus loved us so much that he was not afraid to immerse himself fully in the waters of our lives, we recall that we are united to him as members of his Body because we have been immersed in water and the Holy Spirit through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. We give thanks to God that we are able to eat the fruit of the tree of life every time we gather to receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion. But we also recall that there are many who still need to be led to the river of life that one must cross over to enter the Promised Land of heaven that was opened up when Jesus immersed himself in the Jordan.

It is our mission, our gravest responsibility, and our highest honor to be able to invite others to come into the Promised Land, where the Father embraces us as his beloved children, where the Son feeds us with a food that gives us eternal life, and where the Spirit descends upon us like a dove to make us instruments of peace, of reconciliation, and of mercy.

For St. Anthony Church:
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of this beautiful parish of St. Anthony, we thank God for those who have gone before us, who have handed on the faith to us, so that we ourselves could cross over into the Promised Land. And even though we may still find ourselves drowned by the difficulties and anxieties of life, still immersed in sin, we confidently recall that we have already been immersed in the waters that lead us to Paradise, the waters made holy by Jesus himself. And we pray that we may take up our mission of calling others to these saving waters. We are like John the Baptist, because we are called to live in such a way that people might very easily mistake us for the Messiah. Yet like him, we know that we are not even worthy to untie the sandal straps of the true Messiah, God-with-us, Emmanuel. As we celebrate this centennial, we have the opportunity to renew our commitment to prepare the way of the Lord, so that those who have no hope that there even is a Promised Land will know that it is already open for us.

For the Institution of Lectors:
As we celebrate the Institution of Lectors for these brothers who are on the journey toward the diaconate, we remember that they are called to immerse themselves in the living Word of God, the Word who became flesh, and who opens the Way to the Promised Land. But they are called not just to be soaked in the Word themselves but to immerse all God’s people in the Word, not only by its proclamation with their lips, but by its proclamation with their lives. It is a Word that needs to grow day by day, year by year, so that it will be strong in the hearts of God’s people, so that all will recognize this Word not just as characters written on a page in ink, but as a living person, the eternal Word-made-flesh.

Jesus plunged in, took the leap, went in all the way. And now he calls us who have been soaked with him to proclaim the Word that will lure others to allow him to drown away their sins and to lead them into the Promised Land of heaven.