New Beginning: Second Birth

(Homily for Baptism of the Lord)

Message: By accepting Jesus and the baptism he offers we experience the second birth.

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Even though he has no sin, Jesus submits to baptism so we can be baptized in him. As we hear in the letter to Titus, God saves us "through a bath of rebirth."

This brings us to our theme - a new year, a new beginning. Remember the verse: to those who accept Jesus he gives power to become children of God. Then John adds, "not by natural generation"...but by God. So we have human generation and divine generation.

Before talking about divine generation, let's take a look at human generation. It's mind boggling when you think about it. As a result of the love of a man and woman we begin our existence about the size of a dot at the end of typed sentence. That tiny dot, furiously at work, starts to differentiate, forming various organs - a beating heart at 21 days, soon brain waves, miniature legs, arms, even fingernails.

At the Mary Bloom Center in Peru I had opportunity to listen to a baby's heart beat - about twice as fast as his mother. That little guy, right from the start, sends chemical signals that take control of his mom's body causing dramatic changes - not to mention morning sickness, strange appetites* and roller coaster emotions. In that way he gets his dad's attention. :)

The love of dad and mom has inaugurated an amazing adventure - human generation. There is really only one adventure more amazing - divine generation: Becoming a son or daughter of God.

Divine generation, as we saw in the verse from John, has two parts: one, accepting Jesus and two, baptism. Christians overall acknowledge these two aspects of second birth. Perhaps we Catholics have placed more emphasis on the sacrament of baptism while evangelical Protestants have more emphasized the accepting of Jesus. Both are essential. Jesus said that unless a person is reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. To become a child of God requires baptism and faith in Jesus.

And, you know, just as human generation is a pure gift so is divine generation. John underscores that we are reborn not by a human faculty but by God willing it. We do, however, have a choice whether to accept that gift.

It's something analogous to human generation. A humorous comparison: When I was 10-years-old I remember my older brother - a teenager - getting into an argument with our mom. She accused him of ingratitude and he responded, "I didn't ask to be born." She shot back, "Oh, yes, you did."

I don't know who won the argument, but I do know this: At some point my brother gratefully accepted the gift of life. He went on to a professional life of service. He has a lovely curiosity about people, listens and asks good questions. He married a beautiful gal and they have the joy of grandchildren. He was technically accurate about not asking to be born, but accepting that gift brought enormous blessings.

Something similar applies to accepting the gift of rebirth. It gives great power. One of the most beautiful things about divine regeneration is that we can always make a fresh start. A new year, a new beginning. We've seen that possibility in our families. Families do involve burden and anguish, but in family we find fulfillment and purpose. God invites us to lift up our eyes to see the other person - in our human family, in our parish family - and to see the star that leads to Jesus. By accepting him and the baptism he offers we experience the second birth.

St. Paul gives the proof of our second birth - that we can call God "Father." That is, that we pray. So let's conclude with Paul's words to Titus:

Not because of any righteous deed we have done
but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth...
though Jesus Christ our savior. Amen.


*I knew of a lady who during her pregnancy consumed a jar of sunflower seeds - in a single sitting. They say that if you like sunflower seeds and are in line at a salad bar, you don't want to be behind her son. :)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Baptism of the Lord):

2015 (Year B): A Scientist Who Renewed His Baptism
2014 (Year A): Entering The Big Story
2013 (Year C): Generous Love
2011 (Year A): Seven Teachings about Baptism
2010 (Year C): Saved Through the Bath of Rebirth
2009 (Year B): The Power of Baptism
2008 (Year A): Road to Sanity
2005 (Year A): Most Shocking
2004 (Year C): With Whom I Am Well Pleased
2003 (Year B): The Membership
2002 (Year A): The Grace of Baptism
2000 (Year B): Limits of Solidarity

Other Sunday Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru