Today is the last day of the Christmas Season. What a wonderful gift we have as Catholics to celebrate the birth of our Lord for an extended period of time! Last week was the Epiphany of the Lord, a time to celebrate Christ manifested in the flesh, the greatest gift of God to his creation. On the occasion of the Epiphany, we have three traditional readings. The first is the reading about the magi visiting the Christ Child. The second is the wedding feast at Cana, where Christ turned water into wine, the first of his miracles. And the third is the Gospel we have today, of Christ being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. So today is the octave day of the Epiphany.
As we heard last week, Epiphany means “manifestation.” In each of these Gospels, Christ is manifest in our world in a different way. The magi celebrated that this baby was truly the manifestation of God in our world, because no other birth would have been occasioned by such great astrological signs. The wedding feast at Cana celebrates that Jesus is no ordinary man, that he had come to change the world by the shedding of his blood, just as he changed the water into wine. And today his baptism celebrates that Christ is manifest in the weakness of human flesh to identify himself with sinners through baptism.
So if Jesus Christ identified himself with us sinners through baptism, then we who have been baptized must also identify ourselves with him. We must manifest him in the world through living the Gospel and following in his ways. Today we hear in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus, having been anointed with the Holy Spirit, “went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” That’s the model he set for all who would be baptized as he was. So we baptized ones must do the same.
It is easy to see how we can go about doing good. There are thousands of opportunities to do that in our lives. Children and young people can do good by obeying their parents, being kind to brothers, sisters and friends, attending to their school work, and praying for those who are needy. Adults can strive to lead godly lives, raising families in peace, working diligently at their jobs, and being of service to the community. Every day there is an opportunity to do good in ordinary and extraordinary ways. All we have to do is decide to live our baptismal call and do it.
Healing those oppressed by the devil might seem harder to do. But there are lots of ways to cast out demons. Teaching something to another person is a way to cast out the demons of ignorance. Reaching out to an elderly neighbor is a way to cast out the demons of loneliness. Educating ourselves on the evils of racism is a way to cast out the demons of hatred. Buying fair trade coffee, or bringing food to Loaves and Fishes, or volunteering at Hesed House is a way to cast out the demons of poverty and hunger and homelessness. Visiting the sick, or picking up medication or groceries for a sick neighbor, is a way to cast out the demons of illness. We have opportunities to heal those oppressed by the devil all the time. All we have to do is decide to do it.
On this Epiphany Day, on this Christmas day, Christ, born among us, enters the waters of baptism to sanctify them through his body. Our own baptism is a share in this great baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We who have been baptized then are literally INSPIRED – given the Holy Spirit – in order to continue to make Christ manifest in our world. All we have to do is decide to do it.