The Presentation of the Lord

Today’s readings

Who is this king of glory?
The 
Lord of hosts; he is the king of glory.

Today we celebrate the traditional end of the Christmas season with this feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  The current liturgical end of the Christmas season was back on January 12th, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  But the older tradition reflected what we have seen in the readings for the Sundays ever since, and that is remnants of the Epiphany, or manifestation of who Christ is in our world.  On Epiphany, Jesus was manifested to the Magi as priest, prophet and king.  On the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus was baptized as the eternal Son of the Father, with whom the Father was well-pleased.  Today, Jesus is manifested as a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, as the king of glory.

Like Epiphany, this feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a feast of light.  On Epiphany the world was illumined by a star that pointed to the true Light of the world.  Today, a world grown dark is illumined by that true Light and the glory of God sheds light on the whole world: Gentiles and Israelites alike.  So today, the Church has always blessed candles, which we did at the beginning of Mass today.  The reason the Church lights candles is always to draw our attention to Christ our Light, in the midst of whatever darkness the world throws at us.  This feast is a foreshadowing of the Easter Vigil, when the deacon proclaims in a darkened church, “Lumen Christi,” “The Light of Christ,” and the Church responds, “Deo Gratias,” “Thanks be to God.”  Today is a foretaste of Easter, when the true Light of the World, Christ our Light, will definitively conquer every darkness.

And so you will be invited today to purchase some of the candles we just blessed to take into your home.  Traditionally these blessed candles have been used in many ways: to be a sign of Christ’s presence when the priest is called to anoint a dying loved one; to be lit during a storm to remind us of Jesus who had power to conquer every storm; to be lit when the family gathers for prayer so that we remember that whenever we gather in Christ’s name, he is there in our midst.  Every family should have blessed candles in their home because every family has times when Christ’s light needs to be shown brightly.

Those blessed candles which remind us of the presence of our Savior in good times and in bad remind us that we, too are meant to be the light of Christ.  And we are called to be the light because the world has times of darkness too.  The world needs us to be the light that scatters the darkness of apathy by looking in on a sick neighbor or bringing a meal to a family that has suffered the death of a loved one.  We are called to be the light that scatters the darkness of ignorance by mentoring a young person, or opening our home to a foster child, or being a catechist.  We are called to be the light that scatters the darkness of racism by standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, no matter where they’ve come from.  We have to be the light that scatters the darkness of death by taking every opportunity to oppose abortion, euthanasia, and any endeavor that cheapens human life.  We have to be the light that scatters the sadness of a spiritually bereft world by joyfully living our faith and standing up for what we believe.  The world needs the light of Christ, and you might be the only candle someone sees on a given day.  Be the light, friends: be Christ’s presence.  People of faith don’t have any other option than that.

The Methodist minister William L. Watkinson once said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”  We can look at the darkness of our world – and there is plenty of it! – and shake our heads and walk away in sadness, but that doesn’t shed any light.  We have to acknowledge the darkness and remember, as the Gospel of John proclaims, “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”  We are Catholics and we believe and proclaim that there is no darkness on earth that Christ our Light can’t overcome with the brightness of his glory.  It is up to us to light the candle that helps others to see that glory.

In today’s Gospel reading, Simeon and Anna experienced the power of the Light of the World.  They had been waiting and praying and fasting for the day of his appearance, and those prayers were answered.  The Lord came suddenly to the temple, as Malachi prophesied, and they could now be at peace.  But that appearance of the Lord requires a response: one doesn’t just experience the light and remain the same.  Christ our light is that refiner’s fire that purifies the lives of his chosen ones so that they might go out and shed light on our dark world.

And I don’t mean for this to just be an academic or poetic discussion.  The light of Christ is not a mere metaphor.  Being the light for the world isn’t just a “yeah, maybe I should do that some day” kind of thing.  Every baptized one, according to her or his station in life, is called to actively shed light on the world.  So let’s take a few moments to pray with this.

  • Call to mind a darkness that you have noticed, either in your life, in your community, or in the world: a darkness that affects you or those around you.
  • Take a moment to talk with Jesus about that darkness and let him know your concern.
  • Listen for Jesus as he acknowledges the darkness and accepts your concern.  
  • Ask him for the grace to shed some light, small or big, on that darkness.  Listen for him to tell you what he wants you to do.
  • If you don’t hear that call right away, bring it to your prayer this week.  Ask Jesus for grace to be the light.

The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Sunday of the Word of God

Today’s Readings
Pope Francis’s “motu proprio” APERUIT ILLIS, instituting the Sunday of the Word of God

About fifteen years ago now, my home parish put on a production of the musical Godspell, and somehow I found myself part of the cast.  If you’ve ever seen the musical, you know that it is based on the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel that we are reading during this current Church year.  I remember the first song of the musical was kind of strange to me at the time.  It’s called “Tower of Babel” and the lyrics are a hodge-podge of lots of philosophies and philosophers throughout time.  I didn’t get, at the time, the significance of the song, but I do now.  “Tower of Babel” represents the various schools of thought about God, over time.  It shows how philosophy at its worst has been an attempt to figure out God by going over God’s head, by leaving God out of the picture completely.

The song ends abruptly and goes right into the second song of the musical, “Prepare Ye,” of which the major lyric is “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  The message that we can take from that is that the useless, and in some ways sinful, babbling of the pagan philosophers was once and for all settled by Jesus Christ.  If we want to know the meaning of life, if we want to know who God is, we have only to look to Jesus.  That’s true of most things in life.

That’s what is happening in today’s Liturgy of the Word too.  The people in the first reading and in the Gospel have found themselves in darkness.  Zebulun and Naphtali have been degraded.  They have been punished for their sinfulness, the sin being that they thought they didn’t need God.  They thought they could get by on their own cleverness, making alliances with people who believed in strange gods and worshiped idols.  So now they find themselves in a tower of Babel, occupied by the people with whom they tried to ally themselves.  Today’s first reading tells them that this subjection – well deserved as it certainly was – is coming to an end.  The people who have dwelt in darkness are about to see a great light.

The same is true in another sense for Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee in today’s Gospel.  These men have been fishermen all their lives.  Reading the Gospels and seeing how infrequently they catch anything unless Jesus helps them, we might wonder how successful they were at their craft.  But the point is that fishing is all they’ve ever known.  These are not learned men, nor are they known for their charisma or ability to lead people.  But these are the men who Jesus calls as apostles.  One wonders if they had any previous about Jesus, because on seeing him and hearing him and recognizing the Light of the World, they drop everything, turn their backs on the people and work they have always known, and follow Jesus, whose future they absolutely could never have imagined.

All of this is good news for us. Because we too dwell in darkness at times, don’t we? We can turn on the news and see reports of men and women dying in war, crime and violence in our communities, corruption in government, and maybe worst of all right now, sniping between political candidates!  Then there is the rampant disrespect for life through the horrific sin of abortion, as well as euthanasia, hunger and homelessness, racism and hatred, and so much more.  Add to that the darkness in our own lives: illness of a family member or death of a loved one, difficulty in relating to family members, and even our own sinfulness.  Sometimes it doesn’t take much imagination to know that our world is a very dark place indeed.

But the Liturgy today speaks to us the truth that into all of this darkness, the Light of Christ has dawned and illumined that darkness in ways that forever change our world and forever change us.  One of the Communion antiphons for today’s Liturgy speaks of that change.  Quoting Jesus in the Gospel of John, it says this:

I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.  

There is an antidote available for the darkness in our world and in our hearts, and that antidote is Jesus Christ.  The limits that are part and parcel of our human existence are no match for the light that is God’s glory manifested in Christ.  This is what we mean by the Epiphany, and we continue to live in the light of the Epiphany in these opening days of Ordinary Time.  Now that Jesus Christ has come into the world, nothing on earth can obscure the vision of God’s glory that we see in our Savior.

Pope Francis has made this particular Sunday each year a celebration of the Word of God.  He means for us to spend time opening the Scriptures and finding the manifold riches that are there.  That’s what our Mass is always about.  Read carefully through the order of Mass and you’ll find scripture in every part of it.  Not just in the Liturgy of the Word – that’s a given, but in each and every one of the prayers of Mass.  Catholic worship isn’t something someone made up, it is literally a celebration of the Word of God from beginning to end.  And that makes sense, when you think about it: if we are called to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” as one of the dismissal formulas invites us, we can do that with confidence because we have just been fed on the Gospel in every part of our Mass.

The Mass, too, is an Epiphany celebration at every point of the liturgical year.  Because when we’re attentive to the Word of God and the prayer of the Mass, we can’t possibly miss Jesus present among us.  So Pope Francis on this Sunday of the Word of God encourages us to devote ourselves to God’s word: to join a Bible study – we have that here at Saint Mary’s, to help others break open the word by leading that part of the RCIA, to teaching the scriptures to children in our school and religious education programs, to proclaiming the Word at Mass.  Do any one of those things, sisters and brothers, and I guarantee you’ll grow in your knowledge of scripture.  And, turning a famous saying of Saint Jerome around to the positive, knowledge of scripture is knowledge of Christ.

Jesus came to be good news for us.  He is the Word of God incarnate among us, not just two thousand years ago, but even now if we would give ourselves over to loving the scriptures.  So for those of us who feel like every day is a struggle of some sort, and who wonder if this life really means anything, the Good news is that Jesus has come to give meaning to our struggles and to walk with us as we go through them. For those of us who are called to ministries for which we might feel unqualified – as catechists, Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, RCIA team members, small group leaders or retreat leaders – we can look to the Apostles and see that those fishermen were transformed from the darkness of their limited life to the light of what they were able to accomplish in Christ Jesus. Wherever we feel darkness in our lives, the Good News for us is that Christ’s Epiphany – his manifestation into our world and into our lives – has overcome all that.

As the Psalmist sings for us today, the Lord truly is our light and our salvation.

The Baptism of Our Lord

Today’s readings

I think we have to be a little bit careful about how we read and hear today’s readings.  We’re still in the Christmas season – at the end of it, actually – and, more precisely, we’re at the octave day of the Epiphany of the Lord, which we celebrated last week, in which we started to see Jesus revealing himself, manifesting himself, to the world.  Today’s readings for the Baptism of our Lord are Epiphany readings, too, because they show us even more about who Jesus is and why he came.  This feast is another Epiphany, another manifestation of Jesus in the flesh.

So I say that we have to be careful about how we hear these readings because I think they can lead us to define Jesus by what he does.  And that’s a start, but it’s just inadequate.  Let me explain what I mean.  In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us about the Suffering Servant, and he says that that suffering servant is one who would “open the eyes of the blind … bring out prisoners from confinement …. and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  So it’s easy to see Jesus as the suffering servant who would bring about justice.  This in itself is pretty huge, but again, if we define Jesus as a justice-bringer, then he’s just a glorified judge or legislator.  But Jesus is the true Suffering Servant: the one who would come and serve the people while himself suffering the effects of the peoples’ sins, dying the death of a criminal up there on that Cross.  Jesus did in fact came to suffer and die for us, to pay the price for our many sins.  So far from being a judge or legislator, he also stands in place of the condemned – that would be us – and pays the price we deserve for our own lack of justice.

In our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus “… went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  Going about doing good and healing those who are suffering is a great thing.  But if we see Jesus merely in this way, then he’s nothing more than a glorified social worker or physician – there’s nothing special about that.  But during this year of grace, we will see Jesus as the divine physician who heals us from the inside out and makes us fit for heaven.  That is the real healing he intends.  He won’t be just a food service worker, but instead the one who spreads the lavish feast that becomes food for the journey to heaven, where we are called to the heavenly banquet.

And we know this is hard because we get confused about our own identities all the time.  We can easily define ourselves or especially others by what we or they do.  “He’s a computer programmer … she’s an attorney … he’s a retail worker.”  Or we may even go so far as to define ourselves or others by superficial factors like nationality or sexual identity.  We may even select the pronouns we want people to use when they refer to us.  None of this is adequate; it all falls short of saying who we really are.  In fact, it clouds who we were created to be, and it flies in the face of the way our Creator God sees us.

So we’re in a quandary.  If we don’t know who we are, it will be pretty hard for us to see who Jesus is.  If we define ourselves by what we do, then we’re definitely going to look to Jesus to fill a role for us, perhaps a different role depending on where life has us at the moment.  But it’s all inadequate, and more than a little confusing.

That is, until we hear the words of God the Father in today’s Gospel.  With Jesus coming up out of the river Jordan, the Father boldly proclaims: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  So Jesus isn’t what he does: he is what he was begotten: the Son of God, who is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit from before time began and until eternity.  Because of this, his interaction with us is life-changing.  Maybe he will heal us of this or that current ailment, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will surely heal us from the inside out, and if we let him, he will lead us to heaven.  Maybe he will help us with a family issue that has us up half the night every day, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will certainly give us a strength we never expected that will help us through it.  All we have to do is stop seeing Jesus for what he does, stop expecting him to fill a role, and instead enter into relationship with him as the Son of God who in his very person is everything that pleases his heavenly Father.

When we do that – when we enter into relationship with Christ – he will give us identity too.  And not just the paltry identity of what we do or our nationality or whatever, but the real identity that God created us with – our identity as sons and daughters of God.  No matter how we define ourselves, or worse, how others may seek to define us, no one can take away our identity as beloved children of God.  It is our task to live that identity with authenticity, which can be hard to do.  But thank God he gives us himself and gives us the Church to help us on the way to him.  

Central to our identity as children of God is our own baptism.  In baptism, we are united with Christ who was baptized too, who sanctified the waters that baptized us, who identified himself with us at his own baptism.  We ought to take baptism more seriously than many people do.  We ought to select godparents who live their identity as children of God so that our children might have role models.  We ought to seek to live our baptism by revering Christ before all else, by living the Gospel, by leading others to Christ in our words and example, by constantly seeking the Sacraments of the Church, and by looking forward every day to that great day when Christ will lead us to eternal life.  We sons and daughters of God live for that day when he tells us that with us, too, he is well-pleased.

Friday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

Today, as we continue to celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, we see another Epiphany, another manifestation of our Lord.  Each of these manifestations tells us a little more about who Jesus is and what he came to do in our world.  Today we see Jesus manifested as healer.

“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”  What a wonderful profession of faith!  Here is a man, full of leprosy, who has been in pain and ostracized for perhaps a good portion of his life.  He perhaps has heard about Jesus and was eager to see if he would do what no one has been able to do for him.  No one would even touch a leper, for fear of contracting the disease.  So he has been forced to live with it for all this time.

But Jesus isn’t going to be limited by anything, so he does it: he touches the man and says, “I do will it.”  Healing is the will of our Father, and Jesus came to do the Father’s work.  Responding to the man’s faith, Jesus is able to do in him what no one else could do, or even would do.

But a lot of people have come and gone who would have done the same.  Why is it that everyone is not healed?  Certainly you know of people who have suffered, perhaps you have even suffered yourself, praying and praying all to no avail.  

That’s a hard question, and it’s one that often gets cited by those who reject a life of faith.  But we know in our heart of hearts that there’s all kinds of healing.  And what God intends for us may be far different, perhaps far more important to our salvation, than the healing of a disease.  

In any case, whether the disease goes away or not, the person of faith is always given what God intends for her or him.  And that person never walks through suffering alone, because we know that our Lord suffered greatly on that Cross.  So, joining our sufferings to Christ’s, we have him to help us with our own cross, whatever it may be.  Whether God intends our disease to go away or not, he always wills our salvation, which in the end is the essence of what he came to do. 

Today Christ is manifested as healer.  Healer of our bodies, perhaps.  But healer of our souls to make them fit for heaven, for sure.

Thursday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

Today’s Scriptures continue to reveal Christ manifested in the flesh, and the way his manifestation looks today is like love.  We have the great joy of continuing our reading from the first letter of John today, and, as I mentioned on Tuesday, John is always about love.  Today John gives us a discerning test, so that we can see if a person is of God.  The test is whether that person loves his or her brothers and sisters.  Because one cannot claim to love God who is so very much beyond us, if we cannot love the brother or sister who is right in front of us.

That can prove to be a very daunting test to be sure.  Because I don’t think I’m too far out on a limb to say we’re not very often irritated by the God who is beyond us, but are often irritated by the brother or sister who is always right there in our face!  Still, the commandment is clear: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Jesus Christ is the personification of God’s love for us.  God came to be among us not in some kind of ethereal nature, but with a human face and a human heart, and a love that overcomes all the flaws of our flesh.  It is that love that sets us free.  In Jesus, all the prophecies of deliverance are fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus says, “because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

And if our own love for our brothers and sisters can transcend our petty day-to-day irritations, or even our deep-seated hurts and resentments, than maybe we can set people free, and even set ourselves free, and make Jesus incarnate in the world yet again.

Tuesday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

During this Epiphany time, we continue to see various Epiphanies of the Lord, that is, we continue to see Christ manifested in different ways.  Today, I think we see our Lord manifested as lover.

If you have time today, go back, and prayerfully read the first reading.  It’s one of my favorite selections from the first letter of Saint John.  This reading tells us quite clearly that you can see the presence of God in those who love one another.  I think we should all memorize the first line of that reading, because it’s key:

Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.

Any time you’re in the presence of real love, you’re in the presence of God.  “Knows God” here carries special meaning: knowing God in this sense means you have entered into his life and are wrapped up in his presence.  Love is how you know you’re a disciple, how you know you’re on the way to heaven.  

And it’s not something we do on our own; in fact it’s never something we do first: God is always the first lover.  Listen to the last verse of the first reading again:

In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

God chooses to love us first and love us best.  God shows us how to love, right up there on that ugly Cross.  There is nothing God won’t do for love of us.

So as Jesus comes into his life and ministry, we see him manifested as a lover.  He would sooner turn five puny loaves of bread and a couple of scraggly-looking fish into a sumptuous meal for thousands, than turn them away to fend for themselves.  Love always gives, love never stops until it has given everything, and then love still gives more.  That’s why the Cross is not the end, and the Resurrection is a glorious beginning.

Today, Jesus is manifested as God’s love, freely given if we would freely receive it.  May God’s love change us all today, make us look more like God himself.  Happy Epiphany!

The Solemnity of the Epiphany

Today’s readings

I’m going to make things pretty simple today. If someone asks you what my homily was about, you’ll be able to sum it up in just four words: “Walk toward the light.”

And that’s good advice, I think, for us who walk around in what can be a very dark world. Today’s first reading speaks of that darkness: “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples…” We’re not talking about some kind of simple darkness that is cured by simply turning on a lamp. This darkness is pervasive, not just physical darkness, but a darkness that has psychological effects, and even affects communities and nations. When Isaiah speaks of the thick clouds covering the peoples, that’s what he means: “peoples” means nations. 

And we don’t need to look too much farther than the newspaper or evening news to see that darkness. The year ahead of us might seem rather foreboding. The upcoming election promises to be as divisive as ever an election was in the history of our nation.  January 1st saw the dawning of new laws in our state that negatively affect the unborn and the poor.  We continue to see violence in our cities, and over the holidays, in places of worship. The wars raging in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Africa, all over the world really, those are dark places for combatants and non-combatants alike. Christians in other lands find their lives in danger every day. There’s plenty of darkness to go around, and it may not seem like there’s enough light in all the universe to make it better, to illuminate that darkness, to help us to break free of it all. 

There may be darkness in our own lives too. Maybe we have patterns of sin of which we cannot seem to break free, maybe there are family difficulties that cloud our day-to-day living, maybe there are old hurts among family or friends that prevent us from moving forward in grace. Even our own personal and spiritual lives can be such dark places at times. 

Today’s Liturgy acknowledges all the darkness and invites us: “Walk toward the light.” 

Because the light that we have to scatter all that darkness comes from God himself. Isaiah says again: “but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory.” A darkness as pervasive as the one that covers all peoples takes a very bright light to scatter it. Does this mean that all that darkness will go away immediately? Of course not. But it does mean that God has provided a way, lit up a path, for people of faith to take steps – baby steps if necessary – to walk toward that light. We see that light in the Church, through the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in our celebration of the Eucharist, when we reach out to others in service, in our interaction with each other as people of faith. Those thick clouds may make it pretty hard to see at times, but ultimately they are no match for the bright light of the glory of the Lord.

Isaiah goes on to point out that all that light isn’t intended just for us. When we have approached the light, we need to share that light with others. “Nations shall walk by your light,” Isaiah says, “and kings by your shining radiance.” Having received the light of the glory of the Lord, we are meant to spread it over our corner of the world. We are meant to radiate that light as a beacon in a dark place, so that all peoples – all those peoples that are covered by those thick clouds of darkness – can see their way to the Lord too. We spread that light by changing our lives. We spread it by being people of integrity. We spread it by doing everything we can to reinvigorate our spiritual and devotional lives. We spread the light by paying it forward, by giving of ourselves, by having concern for those in our lives and those the Lord puts in our lives. We spread the light by reaching out to those in need. 

And what is wonderful is that spreading the light never leaves us in the darkness. There is always more light to shine on us. Listen to Isaiah again:

Then you shall be radiant at what you see, 
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.

The glory of the Lord is never diminished by shining on others. In fact, when we share that light with others, we only receive more, so that our hearts are throbbing and overflowing, beholding all the riches that we could ever hope to find. We may find a talent we never knew we had, one that can reach others for Christ. We may find a new energy that comes to a spiritual life that was previously rather listless. We may find new challenges, new opportunities, and always new grace. The riches and wealth of our God are never exhausted. 

All we have to do is walk toward the light. 

The word “epiphany” means “manifestation.” Today, and in the next couple of weeks, we will see Christ’s Lordship manifested in a few different ways. Each of these epiphanies will call us to a deeper appreciation of who Christ is in our lives and a deeper reflection on our own discipleship. 

The light that we walk toward today is very-likely life-changing. The Magi came to seek the light in today’s Gospel reading. All we get from Matthew is a description of the encounter. But we have no idea what the encounter did in the lives of those wise astrologers. We don’t know how it changed them, what it cost them, where it ultimately led them. We see that the light was not intended just for the Jews, but also for all of the nations, pagans and religious people alike. All could come to the light, all could be affected by the light, all could experience the true light of the world. 

And in just the same way, we have no idea how walking toward the light will affect us. We don’t know how it will change us, what it will cost us, where it ultimately will lead us. All we know is that, coming to the light, we will be changed, with the promise of grace upon grace. Just as the Magi were led to return by another way, we too might find ourselves taking another way in our lives. Epiphany is not the end of the story; it is just the beginning for us. What difference will what is manifested to us today make in our lives? Will we accept the one who not only lies in a manger as a newborn, but will also be rejected? Throughout this liturgical year we will hear Jesus’ preaching, observe his works, follow him to his death and then experience his resurrection. We will be exposed to the light many times and in many wonderful ways. It will be a year of many epiphanies for us. 

May this coming year find us walking toward the light countless times and in countless ways, and open to the many riches of grace that the Lord has in store for us.  Walk toward the light!

Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is opening the eyes of his hearers, which includes us, as to who Jesus is and what he came to do.  He speaks of Jesus our God, who is higher than the heavens, who became flesh, essentially “lower than the angels.”  The author points out that he did this so that he could become our brother, making all of us sons and daughters of God.  This is helpful because we sometimes don’t see Jesus clearly: maybe we think of him as so far beyond us, or maybe we see him as a best buddy, but really he is both of these, God becoming man so that we can be led to God.

It is always interesting to me how clearly the unclean spirits know who Jesus is.  For them, Christ our God inspires fear and rebellion.  But even these unclean spirits, hearing his voice, begrudgingly obey.  Jesus teaches with authority, as the people standing by admit of him.  This is a teaching that cannot be ignored. Each person may hear it and respond differently, but they do respond.  Many hear his voice and follow.  Others turn away.

In these early days of Ordinary Time, we essentially have the continuation of the Epiphany event.  We continue to see Christ manifest in our midst, and continue to decide what to make of him.  Today we see him as one who teaches with authority and who has authority over even the unclean spirits within us.  Today he speaks to our sinfulness, to our brokenness, to our addictions, to our fallenness, to our procrastinations, to whatever debilitates us and saddens us and says “Quiet! Come out!”

That can seem remote to us because we don’t have that same kind of demon.  But the truth is, we have to deal with demons all the time: demons of ignorance or apathy, demons of laziness or short-temperedness, demons that lead us to all kinds of sin.  But in Christ, those demons never get to have victory.  This Epiphany of Christ as dispossessor of demons is an epiphany that does more than just heal us.  It is an epiphany that calls us out of darkness, one that insists we come out of our hiding and step into the light, so that the light of God’s love can shine in us and through us.All of this leads us to proclaim with the Psalmist: “O LORD, our Lord, how glorious is your name over all the earth!”

The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Today, we celebrate a feast that is commemorated in the first Luminous Mystery of the Rosary.  The Luminous Mysteries were popularized by Saint John Paul II, and illustrate the various ways that Christ’s nature and the purpose of his coming were revealed to us.  That is, they are luminous mysteries because they shed light on who Christ was and is.  I like to think of the Luminous Mysteries as particularly appropriate during the Epiphany part of the year, because as we discovered last week, Epiphany means manifestation; it refers to light being shed on the person of Jesus Christ.

I call this the Epiphany Season.  Epiphany was last Sunday, and today, the Baptism of the Lord is the end of the Christmas Season.  But the Epiphany goes on in some ways for a while: traditionally until February 2nd, the Presentation of the Lord.  So we will see in the readings in this first part of the year, more and more about who Jesus is and what he came to do.

Today we have some wonderful words of Epiphany in today’s Gospel reading.  Here, it is God the Father who speaks of his Son:“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.”  Talk about a message of Epiphany.  Anyone who heard it cannot possibly be in doubt about who Jesus was. It was certainly enough to convince Saint John the Baptist, who later testifies to the “Lamb of God” and proclaims that “He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

So, if you stop to think about it, we have come a long way since December 25th.  Jesus, the Son of God, has become the son of Mary, and has consecrated the world by his most loving presence.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity has taken on flesh and become one like us in all things but sin.  He took that flesh as the lowliest of all: as a baby born to a poor young family in the tiniest, poorest region of a small nation. He has grown up now, and stands ready to take on his ministry – we will hear more about that next week.  He begins all this by doing what is a very odd gesture: he receives John’s baptism, which is for the forgiveness of sins.

I say it’s an odd gesture because obviously, Jesus didn’t have sins to be forgiven.  So what is this all about?  Why would he set foot into waters that could not wash him from anything?  Well, traditionally, scholars find two reasons for that.  First, by accepting John’s baptism, Jesus identifies himself with sinners, that is, with all of us – the people he came to save.  Nowhere in the Gospels did he ever distance himself from sinners, because of his great love for us.  This then signifies the beginning of his ministry to sinners: the people he would famously dine with and spend time with, and heal and call to conversion. Secondly, his baptism does something to the water.  If the water could not wash him, he could certainly consecrate the water.  By our God setting foot in the waters of baptism, he forever sanctifies the water with which all of us sinners are baptized.  So his being baptized is an act of mercy for all of us, those he came to save.

The secret to our celebration of the Epiphany is that we must be ready to accept the manifestation of Jesus in our own lives.  We have to let him be our king and priest, accepting his death for our salvation.  We have to celebrate our own baptism, which has become significant because Christ has gone through it first, long before us, sanctifying the waters.  We have to accept and treasure the mercy of sharing in his baptism.

This is Jesus: this is the One with whom the Father was well-pleased; he is the One with whom we are in awe.  We are moved to silence before our Christ who came most lovingly to sanctify our way to heaven.  That silence can only be appropriately broken by the exclamation of the Father: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased!”

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