Jan. 9, 2011:
By Fr. Michael Phillippino
When I was in seminary, I took a course on the “kenosis of Christ.” “Kenosis” is a great world that describes the self-emptying of Christ. Most of the course was devoted to Paul’s description of the kenosis of Christ in his letter to the Phillippians: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality of God as something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance. He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).
Although there are many different interpretations of this passage, what certainly comes through is the humility of Christ. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus did not seek to be God, but rather humbled himself. He humbles himself on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus continues his “downward plunge”, so to speak, into the waters of the Jordan, identifying himself not only with our humanity but even with our sin. As Paul would say in his letter to the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him the sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21).
Thus, Jesus opens for us a way to an entirely new type of life. We can, through the sacrament of Baptism and other sacraments – especially Confession and Eucharist, won for us by his death on the cross – become with him beloved sons and daughters of God. As the Catechism says:
536 The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”232 Already he is anticipating the “baptism” of his bloody death.233 Already he is coming to “fulfill all righteousness,” that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his Father’s will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.234 The Father’s voice responds to the Son’s acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son.235 The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to “rest on him.”236 Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism “the heavens were opened”237 – the heavens that Adam’s sin had closed – and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation.
537 Through Baptism, the Christian is sacramentally assimiliated to Jesus who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection. The Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father’s beloved son in the Son and “walk in newness of life.”238 “Let us be buried with Christ by Baptism to rise with him; let us go down with him to be raised with him; and let us rise with him to be glorified with him.239 Everything that happened to Christ lets us know that, after the bath of water, the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father’s voice, we become sons of God.”240
228: Cf. Lk 3:23; Acts 1:22 229: Lk 3:3
230: Cf. Lk 3:10-14; Mt 3:7, 21:32 231: Mt 3:13-17
232: Jn 1:29; cf. Isa 53:12 234: Mt 3:15; ct. 26:39
235: Cf. Lk 3:22; Isa 42:1 236: Jn 1:32-33; cf. Isa 11:2
237: Mt 3:16 238: Rom 6:4
239: St. Gregory of Nazianzuz, Oratio. 40, 9: PG 36, 369
240: St. Hilary of Poitier, In Matth. 2, 5: PK 9, 927