After all the people had been baptized 
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, 
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."
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

The presence of the Spirit descending like a dove and the heavenly voice of affirmation are essential elements in the story of Jesus' Baptism. In the first place, they frame yet another Epiphany moment, bringing to a close the Christmas season, revealing Jesus' divine status, and confirming him in his mission. Secondly, the celestial happenings reveal that Jesus is in good standing with God -- in other words, the Lamb of God submits to "a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" though he is himself without sin (Lk 3:4). This paradoxical submission to the waters of the Jordan shows that Jesus, far from placing himself above the human condition, is fully immersed in it, just as he was at birth. As in the infancy narratives, in this account there are none of the trappings of power and privilege, nor any triumphant fanfare as Jesus begins his public ministry. Writing to the Philippians, St. Paul underscores this theme of incarnational humility: "Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness" (Phil 2:6-7).

Humility is not a popular virtue but it is one worth reflecting on. Like the crowds who flocked to John the Baptist, all of us are in need of forgiveness; our starting point on the journey to humility is to recognize this and to take stock of our shortcomings. Perhaps we lack patience or are judgmental towards others; perhaps we are habitually negative or sap others' energy with our complaints. Perhaps we live as "coach potatoes," living vicariously through the celebrities we follow on TV, Twitter and Instagram. Perhaps we consume more of the earth's resources than we need or fail to share our surplus with those who have little. It maybe that we feel entitled to the good things in life or that we hold ourselves above the law; on the other hand, we may be so bound by the rules that we completely lack flexibility. Or perhaps we try to control our own destiny rather than submit to God. When it comes to examining our consciences, we need to go beyond the Ten Commandments and look at our relationships with God, self, others, and all the web of life.

The point of this self-inventory is not to lapse into self-loathing or a scrupulous fixation on our faults; rather, it is to acknowledge that we are imperfect beings in need of God's mercy. In the ancient world, the greatest sin was hubris or pride -- that is, to deify oneself instead of bowing to a higher power. By re-turning to God, by acknowledging God as the source of all that we are, we allow ourselves to be washed clean and to recover the divine image that has been imprinted on our souls. Our goal is no longer self-gratification but pleasing God. We move from religion as "duty" to a love affair with God; then the God who is "well pleased" with Jesus will surely delight in us!

  1. In what ways do you delight God?
  2. In what ways have you tarnished the Divine Image within?
  3. What new year's resolutions might bring you closer to God?