Friends, Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism points to the significance of this foundational sacrament.
Listen to the great theologian Gregory of Nazianzen: “Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift. . . . It is called ‘gift’ because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; ‘grace’ since it is given even to the guilty.” Jesus said, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” Baptism is the sacramental ratification of that choice.
And this is why we speak of Baptism as justifying us and washing away our sin. We are—all of us—born into a deeply dysfunctional world, a world conditioned by millenia of selfishness, cruelty, injustice, stupidity, and fear. This has created a poisonous atmosphere that conditions all of our thoughts and moves and actions.
Do you see why the stress on grace is so important? Baptism is the moment when the Holy Spirit draws us out of this fallen world and into a new world, the very life of the Trinity. That’s why Baptism involves being born again, lifted up, enlightened, transformed, saved—and why the Church speaks of the baptized as a “new creature.”