The Baptism of Christ falls at the end of the Christmas season and represents the manifestation of the Sacrament of Baptism. The Baptism represents both the humanity of Christ, revealed in the mystery of the incarnation, as well as manifests His divinity, proclaiming Christ truly the Son of God. Christ was entirely sinless yet, he stood in the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John in order to set an example and institute the sacrament by sanctifying the waters. Joseph Ratzinger later Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his series Jesus of Nazareth on the symbolic nature of water,
Commissioned Artwork, Canning Liturgical Arts
On the one hand, immersion into the waters is a symbol of death, which recalls the death symbolism of the annihilating, destructive power of the ocean flood. The ancient mind perceived the ocean as a permanent threat to the cosmos, to the earth; it was the primeval flood that might submerge all life . . . But the flowing waters of the river are above all a symbol of life. (Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth 15-16)
The Sacrament of Baptism celebrates rebirth of the soul into the Faith and the washing away of Original Sin. The Feast looks forward to the purpose of Christ’s life, His Death and Resurrection.
Looking at the events (of Christ’s baptism) in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, ”Take me and throw me into the sea” (Jon. 1:12) . . . The baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out “This is my beloved Son” over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word “baptism” to refer to his death. (Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth 18)
The Baptism of Christ is depicted in artwork with consistent symbolism and imagery. In the image above done by one of our artists at Canning Liturgical Arts, St. John shown baptizing Christ with a shell, a symbol for new life, below the same such imagery is depicted in paintings from the 15th century. The Holy Spirit descends over Christ and the Heavens are parted symbolizing the presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The angel(s) pictured in paintings of the Baptism of Christ support the divinity of His nature while Christ humbly sets an example for humanity.