This feast is part of the epiphany cycle of feasts ….
It reveals further the meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God, that is. our God entering our world and becoming flesh and blood.
God sent is only Son to become one with us.
What better way to do this than to show acceptance of the human condition by being baptized for the forgiveness of sin.
Jesus has no personal sin. Yet he lined up with hundreds of pilgrims to be baptized by the prophet John in the Jordan.
In this we see Jesus’ humility. He is willing to accept ALL of the human condition. He willingly presents himself for baptism.
There he is: John in his camel-hair shirt at the edge of the desert, wading out into the waters of the Jordan River.
A crowd has gathered on the banks. Jesus is among them. He is unknown at this time because he has yet to begin his ministry. He has chosen this meeting with the Prophet to inaugurate his own mission.
Jesus waits patiently amidst the crowd. There’s a line of people eagerly waiting to meet individually with John and to receive his baptism of repentance.
It’s almost Jesus’ turn. John catches his eye as he talks with the young woman ahead of Jesus. (They’re cousins, you may remember.)
As Jesus walks up to John, his cousin objects, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
I wonder why John said, “I NEED to be baptized by you.”
There’s a crowd around but a bit of an intimate conversation between cousins takes place.
I wonder when the last time they talked.
I wonder how close they were.
Did they ever have “guy” talk?
But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.
John probably admired his cousin a lot and found it difficult to play this role of “holier than thou,” so to speak. Consenting, he probably did reluctantly.
But if I were John, I would have doused my cousin GOOD!
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
I have a strawberry conditioner I put on my non-hair as a reminder of my anointing at confirmation. It’s a ritual I do every time I shower to remind me of my baptism.
These days I very much feel a beloved son, with whom my heavenly Father and my Lord are pleased.
Why? Because they know I try my best to pray well and to be faithful, as odd as that may seem as I walk this very unconventional path.
You see, Jesus fulfills ALL of the proscriptions of a penitent. He does everything that he is supposed to do. He does not ask for special favors. He does not expect any courtesies or privileges.
(I can learn a lesson here. In the days that there were special privileges for priests ~ not any more ~ I sometimes relished being whisked to the head of the line or getting a “clergy discount.”)
But back to our story. An astonishing thing happened; the two of them were privileged to a vision. The sky opened up and John saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus like a dove and hover over him.
With that, a voice from the heavens said,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
In our immersion into the waters of baptism, we are consecrated, set apart and made holy. In Jesus’ immersion in the baptismal waters of the Jordan, the opposite becomes true. Jesus consecrates, sets apart and makes holy the waters of baptism. Jesus as Man consecrates the movement of divine grace that flows just as rivers flow.
Sometimes the river has abundant waters that give life to all living things that share its banks. But sometimes the waters dry up and become like a desert.
So, too, with grace. Grace flows like a river bringing wonderful fruit to all who drink and are immersed in it. But sometimes grace seemingly dries up and we live in a desert for awhile. But the river is still there ~ unseen; it just moves below the surface.
So we have to be willing to be immersed. To be immersed in divine grace. To be immersed in God. To be immersed in love.
But that precisely is the problem. We are scared of being immersed in love. We are scared of being immersed in God. We prefer to stand on the banks of the river and watch the waters of grace flow by, without having direct contact with it.
So this feast day is about us as well. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in God. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in love.
If we are immersed in God, in love, we will hear the voice of God say to us
“You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.
Now, before you go, here’s Bill and Gloria Gaither singing the traditional spiritual “Shall we Gather at the River.” Click here.
The Feast of the Epiphany ~ Sunday, January 5th, 2014
Today’s feast day has several meanings. In the Roman Church we celebrate the story of the Magi visiting Jesus and offering him gifts. In the Eastern churches, they focus on the story of the Baptism of the Lord. Both celebrate the manifestation, the revelation of Jesus to the whole world.
Paul in today’s letter to the Ephesians proclaims that “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
We focus on the story of the Magi in our celebration today. In the Gospel of Christmas, the angels proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, who were uneducated and poor folk; The story from Luke indicates that the gospel is to be preached to the poor.
Today’s story is from Matthew. The Magi, are scholars and learned men. They discern from their study of the heavens that the Messiah was to be born in their time; they would risk the search for him and offer their treasures. The Magi represent all the peoples of the earth outside and beyond the Jewish experience. Jesus is the Christ for everyone!
This Gospel story is about darkness and light.
Brilliant light and terrible, fearful darkness.
The Magi were comfortable with the dark. They knew how to find their way in the dark because they could interpret the lights of the sky. They were adventurers / seekers / explorers.
They represent all people who are at home in the world of the intellect. All people who are willing to journey far to seek and find the truth.
They went out into the night following the light, the great star which marked a singular event in human history.
They stopped to see Herod, expecting that he would welcome the light. He couldn’t; he was filled with diabolical darkness; he could not abide the light of truth. He tried to snuff out the life of the God-Man ~ Jesus the light of the world.
Herod, the guy in charge, a king, was worried about the birth of a baby. Herod was very powerful, and yet, as Matthew says, “ . . . he was greatly troubled.”
What was Herod afraid of? Obviously, he knew that Jesus was going to make a difference in his world and was afraid that a change would mean losing the power he had. He wanted Jesus gone before any of that could happen. He liked things just the way they were.
So Herod decreed that all firstborn male babies under two were to be killed. Jesus and Mary and Joseph had to flee into the night to find a safe place in a foreign land, the land of Egypt. And so a shroud of violence comes over the innocence of the Christmas story. Jesus and his family became political refugees.
Some of us too are swallowed up by darkness, enshrouded by night.
Some of us live in dysfunctional families. That too can be terrible darkness, though we may not recognize it. We may think that yelling and screaming are quite normal.
Some of us get up and work very hard every day. Perhaps it is work that we do not enjoy, perhaps even hate. Perhaps our spirits are far away from our jobs. We go to work trying to make a living while hoping that the darkness will not overwhelm us.
And we know that there is darkness in the world. Israelis refuse to seek peace with the Palestinians. And there’s troubles in Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Syria. Hate seethes deep in the souls of neighbors a few miles away from each other.
And so, listen to these powerful words from Isaiah in the first reading:
RISE UP IN SPLENDOR, DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD, YOUR LIGHT HAS COME.
THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHINES UPON YOU.
This feast is about a light that penetrates the most stubborn darkness of our lives.
This feast brings a Light to us all, if only we, like the Magi, would seek.
SEE DARKNESS COVERS THE EARTH
AND THICK CLOUDS COVER THE PEOPLES.
Violence seems to enshroud our whole planet, lest we be engulfed in it.
BUT UPON YOU THE LORD SHINES
AND OVER YOU APPEARS HIS GLORY.
Don’t despair of the darkness, dear friends. Know that there is a light that can penetrate it.
There was sadness and a thick veil of darkness over my own life for many years. I had the good sense to move to the little bit of light that I could find. A candle flame can be as bright as a great Nova when one is looking for light.
WE need the light of God’s truth in the world today.
NATIONS SHALL WALK BY YOUR LIGHT,
AND RULERS BY YOUR SHINING RADIANCE.
Out of the darkness came the Magi bringing gifts for the Light of the World. Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Holy Child who was the Light.
But before we can give a gift, we must — often in the midst of the darkness – open our hands and our hearts to receivethe gift that God would give to us. We must first receive before we can give.
Out of the darkness of your lives, you also can find gifts to give to the Lord and your family and friends.
What gifts do we bring?
Do we bring Jesus the gift of our adoration which the Magi did? The gift of our hearts?
These learned and influential people got down on their knees before this little child. What or who receives the gift of OUR adoration and allegiance?
The world does not know how to adore God. We adore so many other things — a new sports car, a new home, a gifted child of our own, good-looking women or men . Maybe we adore a favorite movie star or your favorite sports team when they are winning at least. Do we adore our career path, willing to do whatever it takes, even if we embrace the darkness along the way?
Remember the story of the little drummer boy?
What one gift can we give to God this day?
Close your eyes. Think about it for a moment.
Now, before you go, here’s The Little Drummer Boy to help you think about what gift you have to offer. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
You can find today’s Mass readings at this link. Click here.