Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11Titus 2: 11-14, 3: 4-7Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22
Sometimes a story is so familiar that it is easy to overlook its real significance. Such might be the case with the account of the Baptism of the Lord. An unusual aspect of this event in the life of Jesus is that all four Evangelists make reference to it. We may not realize that this is not all that common.
It helps, however, to give some thought to the context. John the Baptist had been preaching for some time. It is clear that he had attracted a following. Some even thought he may be the Christ, the promised Messiah. On the other hand, at that point, Jesus was pretty much an unknown commodity. We heard John, today, deny that he was the Christ. He also said that a more significant person would come. Other accounts of this event tell us that John names Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” What this moment presents is the acceptance by Jesus of his mission as well as the beginning of his ministry. We hear: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” Thus begins the ministry of Jesus. All that follows in his ministry flows from this designation as the “Beloved Son.”
The ministry of the “Beloved Son” marks a new development in the history of the world. He is God’s chosen means of being revealed, being known. In the person of Jesus Christ, God comes into the midst of the world in order to restore and renew creation, to restore and renew us. He comes to begin to root out the effects of sinfulness, the rejection of God, so that what was intended from the beginning can now be achieved.
The Baptism of the Lord conveys a spirit of hope and adventure. It conveys the spirit of a new way by which things were to be done. It is an adventure that was begun in the ministry of Jesus and then continued by the body of believers Jesus establishes with his followers. It has the potential of renewing the world and renewing us. This is the hopeful challenge which begins with the Baptism of the Lord.
This same challenge is given to us in our baptism when we became children of our loving God. It was then that we were anointed for doing God’s work. It is in that spirit that we hear from Isaiah and Saint Paul what we are and what we are to do. It is the living of our faith that brings comfort. It is in the living out of our faith that the hills and valleys that hinder our lives are overcome. It is in the living out of our faith that allows us freely and willingly to reject godless ways and to live in ways that are balanced, just and devout.
The Baptism of the Lord marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It is that ministry that now continues in us as we seek to take advantage of the possibilities of what we might be. We are to allow the message of his ministry to pierce the very depths of our minds and hearts and so reveal a loving relationship with our good and gracious God.
Isaiah 60: 1-6 Ephesians 1: 2-3a, 5-6 Matthew 2: 1-12
It is a bit surprising that the account of the Magi is found in the Gospel composed by St. Matthew. The traditional understanding is that Matthew’s account is primarily addressed to persons of Jewish background. Why would he tell of persons who were foreigners of a different religious tradition? After all, the Israelites of old, the people, culture and Faith among whom Jesus was born, were known as the “Chosen People” They were a limited group who were the first means by whom the revelation of God took place.
Although Matthew was addressing listeners of Jewish tradition and background, the presence of the Magi in his account makes clear the universality of the Gospel message. The revealing presence of the God-made-man is available to every person. At the same time, it also suggests the universality of the dignity of all persons. There is no exclusivity to the revelation of God’s love.
Indeed, the inclusion of the account of the Magi declares that all humanity is invited to respond to the revelation of God that begins to unfold with the birth inBethlehem. Echoing the prophet Isaiah, persons from throughout the world were coming – not only to see what had taken place, but also to be affected by it. The Lord had come into the world, God was in our midst, to be revealed to all and to everyone.
The Magi stand as a reminder to us of ourselves. We are part of the whole world to whom the Lord is revealed. It is through us that the Lord is to be known to the world.
In Matthew’s account, the Magi saw a star. They were moved by it. They responded to it. In doing so, they began a procession leading others to the object of that sign, the Incarnate Word. God in our midst.
We are to be the Magi of today. We have seen and celebrated the Lord coming into our midst. By our baptism, the Lord became directly a part of our lives. We were made holy and called to continue to be holy. It is incumbent on us to do the same as the Magi and lead other to the Lord.
The Feast of the Epiphany that we celebrate today not only recalls that the Lord was revealed to the world in history, but also that he is to be shown forth now. The light of the Lord which lit up the darkness then is to shine brightly in us now . We are to reflect that light and lead others, by our lives, to that light. Let it be that our lives, what we are and what we do, in word and in action, not hinder but encourage, not hide but reveal, the transforming effect of true faith and trust in our good and gracious God.
1 Samuel 1: 22, 24-28 1 John 3: 1-2, 21-24Luke 2: 41-52
I particularly like the account of this incident m the life of Jesus that has just been read because of the very humanness of it. In some ways it can be considered quite like experiences between parents and children in our own lives. This can be readily seen in the interaction between Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It actually provides a strong emphasis on the mystery of the Incarnation, of God taking on our human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is Divine, as is suggested by his having to be in his “Father’s house. But he is also human, causing Mary and Joseph to be upset.
We can also appreciate the dynamic of the role of God’s presence in human lives in the account of the birth of the Old Testament prophet Samuel. Samuel was a child who was longed for over many years. Hannah and Elkeniah were finally able to give birth. Their faith and hope in God was realized. Considering herself to have been blessed, Hannah is true to a promise she had made and thus dedicates, returns, this child to the source of all life, God. This is not a denial of love or care for Samuel, but a profound insight into her love and care for him. She dedicates Samuel to God so that a greater or more important goal, God’s purpose in the life of Samuel, might be achieved. This is a very human demonstration of love. It is also a reflection of how Elkeniah and Hannah realize the love of God that they had experienced.
From these two examples of family life put before us today we can gain a greater appreciation of the thoughts we have also heard from Saint John. The first opportunity that any of us had to learn about the presence and the effect of love took place within the context of family life. It is within family life, hopefully, that we experience and come to know how to love and to be loved. We are described by John as “children” in order to point out that we have the same intimate relationship with God as can be experienced within a family. John is telling us how truly important all persons are in relationship to God. Each of us and all of us, whoever we are, wherever we come from, are set apart as sacred so that we can reflect in our daily living the name and the inheritance given to us by God. As children of God we are to reflect a life that is truly God-like. This is the challenge before us day after day.
With the story of the finding in the Temple reminding us of the importance of recognizing God with us we celebrate at Christmas, with the account of the fulfillment of hope and trust in the birth of Samuel and the response made in his dedication to God, and with the profound insight of the author, John, that calls on us to realize our importance as children our loving Father, we can be reaffirmed in the faith and trust that we place in a truly good and gracious God.
Micah 5: 1-4a Hebrew 10: 5-10 Luke 1: 39-45
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God in our midst, we are told a story about Mary, a central character in that event. It is a simple and unpretentious story. Having been presented with the news that God would intervene in her life and she would become pregnant with a child by the action of the Holy Spirit, she took this in, accepted it and moved on with her life by taking time to visit with her relative who also was with child. Such is the way that we can appreciate the story of Mary and Elizabeth that we heard today.
At first we might simply view this account as an exemplary reaction by Mary when she learned of her relative’s pregnancy. She goes off to help her. They are two mothers-to-be assisting one another, sharing the anticipation, the excitement, the difficulties of their respective pregnancies.
Giving further thought, however, to this story I believe that it reveals to us even deeper symbolism and meaning. This can be found in the manner in which these two women shared the mystery of what was happening to them.
On the one hand, like Elizabeth, we can ask the question ourselves of how is it that we are so loved by God that God, indeed, is present to each of us in life. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, beyond reflecting the concern of one relative for another, announces the generosity of God that is available to us all. It is an opportunity available to anyone who is open to the goodness being shown to appreciate how significant each of us is to our loving God and how this can and does affect our own manner of living in relation to all of humanity and to all of creation.
On the other hand, in Mary, there is an even greater reminder of what is being offered to us by the Christmas event, the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, we are to recognize that each of us is like Mary as this event takes place.
We are like Mary because our Faith proclaims that we possess within ourselves the Savior of the world whom we share in Word and Sacrament. We are like Mary because we can say that the peace of God’s presence for which our world desperately longs is now here in the Lord who is with us. We are like Mary because we have been blessed by the opportunity to make known to the world the depth of God’s love for us.
In the story of these two women which we recall in these days before Christmas we are reminded of what ought to be the central message of that celebration. It is our great fortune to share in the generosity shown to us by the coming of our Lord to us. It is our opportunity to proclaim by our words, by our actions, by our lives, the magnificent love and kindness of our good and gracious God.
Zepheniah 1: 14-18a Phillipians 4: 4-7 Luke 3: 10-18
The overall theme that seeks our attention in the Liturgy today is rather easy to recognize. It is “joy.” “We are called to “Rejoice.” In many ways it is this same theme that pervades this whole period before Christmas.
Why are we called to “Rejoice”? We rejoice because the foundation of everything that is a part of this Advent Season is declared by the prophet Zepheniah: “The Lord your God is in your midst.” We rejoice because, as Paul states “The Lord is near.” Finally, we rejoice because of what is the basis of the ministry of John the Baptist: “He preached good news to the people”: the Promised One is here.
Quite simply, rejoicing is at the very heart of the Christian Faith. Even in the midst of struggles and challenges, even facing pain and suffering, we are called by the faith that we profess to be persons of joy. Joy is not some sort of superficial emotion, a superficial giddiness. Joy is to be found deep down within ourselves, in the depth of our interior life. Joy can be present because of the confidence, the hope, the trust that we place in the presence of a loving God in our world and in our lives.
Is this not the fundamental message of the Advent Season? We express a confident anticipation and expectation of a loving God, a God who, in the person of Jesus Christ, came humbly into our world. It is a joy that is based on the assurance, as Zechariah points out, that God is genuinely faithful, true and dependable. When we think of our own human experiences, how often have we been let down, disappointed, by those we counted on? How often have we been abandoned, ignored, by those who did not come through when they were needed? This is not the experience with God that Advent announces and that is the basis of the true celebration of Christmas.
How ought this confident faith affect us? For an answer, listen to John the Baptist and then look at the practicalities of our own lives. How can evidence of genuine justice and respect be given to those who are a part of our day to day living, or to those who are a part of our community, our nation, our word, or to those who are often overlooked, forgotten or demeaned especially by those who could do so much good?
John, in announcing the Good News that the Promised One is here, clearly makes a challenge to do the right thing, to do the just thing. He calls for doing what genuinely makes the truth and goodness of God evident in our respective lives and in our world.
The source of our joy and the reason that we are to rejoice is present to us and is present with us. More importantly, that source of joy is to be present through us in reflecting, in showing forth m a truly good and gracious God.