Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD – A – JANUARY 12, 2014

From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

From the Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38

From the holy Gospel according to Matthew 3:13-17

 

It is one thing to ponder the wonder of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist.  It is another to consider the implications of our own in light of Jesus’.  With Jesus’ Baptism, we celebrate an Epiphany, a proclamation that Jesus is Lord.  With ours we rejoice that we are identified with Jesus as the object of God’s love.

Obviously Jesus and John had had a relationship prior to the encounter between them at the Jordan.  John’s ministry was highly successful.  We take that from the huge crowds that came out to hear him and from the numbers of people that submitted to his Baptism.  As John’s junior it is possible that Jesus sat and listened to John’s preaching.  Perhaps they had been together in formation.  At this point Jesus has decided he is called to go his own way.  He had determined that his message would be new and filled with Good News markedly different from the reform that John preached.  So much of John’s proclamation had to do with dire warnings of a wrath to come, of judgment and condemnation for those caught unawares.  It is difficult to reconcile that message with the Suffering Servant Isaiah describes in today’s First Reading, the one who brings forth justice to the nations without crying out, without shouting, without so much as a voice heard in the street.  It is not difficult to imagine John shouting a lot as he admonished.

Except for those times when Jesus will rail against the hypocrites and the sellers in the Temple, Jesus’ way will be the gentle way.  He will be about forming relationship between people and God, the Baptismal Covenant, even as he helps people to see and walk in the light of freedom.  Jesus will not be about condemning, but about calling people to the freedom of the children of God.  His message will be for the nations (the Gentiles) as well as for the Jews.

It seems clear that Jesus wanted it to be obvious that there was continuity between his way and John’s, one message to be built upon the other, one flowing from the other.  Was it the Spirit urging Jesus that day as he went to the Jordan and John and asked for John’s Baptism?  Was it the Spirit that told Jesus that this was the hour, that it was time to begin the response to the Father’s will?  There would be no turning back from this moment even as he must have wondered where this moment would take him.  The text does not say that John clapped Jesus on the back and wished him well.  It doesn’t say that Jesus parted after a fond embrace.  It does say that Jesus heard a voice saying: this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.  In Mark and Luke the crowds will hear the Voice.   We can only imagine the exaltation Jesus felt at this revelation, an exaltation that will sustain him through the good times and the difficult times.

This is an Epiphany moment just as surely as was the coming of the Magi, and as will be the miracle at the marriage at Cana.  We believe that at Jesus’ Baptism, he is recognized as and proclaimed to be the Messiah, the One we call Lord.

That is all well and good.  Should we stop there and bask in the splendor of the moment?  Or, is there much more for us to remember in this celebration that should have profound impact on our lives and the way we live them?  If we consider this proclamation as an opportunity to consider a historical moment, leaving it there, we won’t experience the proclamation of the Word as the Living Word.  We will just stand there wising we could have witnessed the moment ourselves.

Remember, that moment at the Jordan is timeless.  Each time someone enters the waters to die and rise that moment is renewed and so is the covenant.  Each time we hear the proclamation we have the opportunity to re-enter the Jordan and renew our Baptismal promises and commitment to live in union with Jesus.  Each time, we will be urged on to come together and gather at the Table to renew Eucharist, there to be transformed anew by what we do.

Jesus’ Baptism is not a private moment we are to cherish in our hearts while missing the implications.  Each one of us was called by name at our Baptism.  God spoke of God’s pleasure in each of us.  All this was so that we could be sent to do what Jesus did.  That has nothing to do with making our voices heard in the streets.  We may do that.  It has nothing to do with being judgmental or condemning, or with breaking the bruised reed.

We must come out of the Font ready to minister and to love and be the vulnerable ones in the ministry of loving as Jesus loved.  Do you hear those thoughts resonating in Pope Francis’s many proclamations and actions?  When we accept the implications of our Baptism, we will dare to emerge as that poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  We will stop judging and condemning and return to proclaiming that all are welcome.  Recognizing Jesus in the poor, the lowly, the oppressed, the vilified, and the shunned, we will recognize ourselves, too, since we live in Christ and in those little ones.

Jesus wants us to be aware that the journey that begins at the Font may well lead to where Jesus’ did.  We may come to our own Calvary, the Cross, to crucifixion and even to death.  But not to defeat.  We will recognize liberation when we are judged and even condemned.  I promise you that.  But we will not know defeat.  That was washed away in the Water.  Death remained there.  Even if we are asked to pour out our entire beings in service of the Word, even if we die doing that, in Christ we will rise again.

I invoke the Spirit on you, my Reader, that you will remember what has happened to you when you come to the dark times so that you will be strengthened for the journey.  Keep looking forward to the next time you pause at the Font and touch the Waters.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD – January 05, 2014

 

From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 60:1-6

From the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

From the holy Gospel according to Matthew 2:1-12

There is a Christmas carol that sings about the need for Christmas, just a little Christmas.  Who could argue with that observation?   This year, a case could be made for the need to celebrate the older feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.  The need is not in any way little.  If we take our lead from the First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah, you’ll see what I mean.  The glorious opening will set the tone for us.  Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.  Splendor.  Glory.  Thrilling words that conjure lush images in the hearer’s imagination.  Then comes the proclamation that Jerusalem’s splendor will be so radiant and the riches so magnificent that foreigners from the East will come with their gifts and stay to praise the Lord.

There is a challenge if we hear the message in its historical context.  It is true that the Exile, the Babylonian Captivity, had come to an end.  Cyrus had allowed the Jews to return to their beloved Jerusalem.  Ah, but what had they found when they arrived home?  Destruction and ruin, the aftereffects of war and pillage.  Even the Temple was destroyed.  Imagine the tears and the wailing.  Hear Isaiah’s prophecy in that setting.  How would your heart have responded?

We need a little Epiphany, just a little Epiphany this year.  These are difficult times; for some the times are desperate.  Many in our land are in deep poverty, homeless, and hungry.  Children cry for the basics.  Some suffer abuse at the hands of their parents and others who should protect and care for them.  How many adults and children are being killed in the violence of the wars in the Middle East?  Then we have the memories of recent natural disasters in the Philippines, in the mid West of the States and elsewhere.  We reel from the shootings in schools and theaters and market places that take down the unarmed innocent ones.  The toll for those brave ones killed in war continues.  You may be carrying the burden of poor health, advancing age, or the loss of a loved one.  Hear Isaiah’s prophecy in that context and believe – which is another way of saying, Have hope in the Lord.  Epiphany is about hope and the revelation of God’s love for us in the One who is born among us regardless of the contrary signs that may surround us.

No one ever said that living in faith would be easy.  Jesus always said that those who would follow him would have to dispossess themselves and take up the Cross.  Some might have concluded that they could choose a cross and temper the dispossession.  These times and personal experiences prove otherwise.

The word, Epiphany, means manifestation, or, showing forth.  For us, in the celebration of this feast, Epiphany means recognizing the glory of the Lord in the one who has come and has chosen to dwell among us, the One who brings God’s love to embrace all people.  Through Jesus, the walls that separate and divide people have been torn down.  Even racial, gender and gender-orientation differences show signs of being bridged for many.  There is evidence of healing.  In Christ the human and the divine have been united.  All will know the love of God as their dignity and worth are solemnized and proclaimed.  That is what Paul tells us in the reading from the Letter to the Ephesians.  The Gentiles are co-heirs, (and all races, and gays and straights) members of the same body, and co-partners in promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  John said it another way.  Beloved, we are God’s children now.  What we shall become remains to be seen.

Do you see evidence of Epiphany’s reality around you?  Please God, yes, especially when you gather for Eucharist.  Please God when you experience the unity that is yours in the one Bread and the one Cup.  Please God you recognize the wonder as you celebrate the Mystery and experience the acceptance and welcome as you do.

Epiphany is rife with challenge.  The word means manifestation, remember.  Who will do the manifesting?  Ah, there’s the rub.  Now hear Pope Francis’s many challenges to the bishops and ordained ministers in the church to get out and be among the people instead of living in splendor apart from them.  Hear his call for a poorer church ministering to the needs of the poor.  His challenges are not just for the hierarchy, but for all the church.  Then would Epiphany ring out worldwide.

Listen to the Gospel reading for today.  The first thing to note is that those who should have been most informed through their studying of the Scriptures should have rejoiced at the star’s rising and understood its significance.  But that wasn’t the case.  Foreigners, nonbelievers, recognized the sign and immediately set out to follow where it led.  There is nothing in Matthew’s Gospel that identifies the travelers as kings, much less that they were three in number.  Matthew does say that they were astrologers; they studied the heavens and perceived implications in stars’ configurations.  Recognizing the implications, they came to adore and give gifts, to dispossess themselves of gold, a gift for a king, frankincense, a gift for a god, and myrrh, the ointment of preparation for a body to be buried.

Isn’t it curious that when the Magi seek information from Herod’s court that will be specific in helping the strangers locate the newborn King of the Jews, Herod consults the chief priests and the scribes who will know just where to go in the Scriptures and so determine that you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.

The Gospel is not always good news to those who do not want to hear its message, much less take the message to heart and change their lives accordingly.  Herod was quite happy being king of the Jews.  The chief priests and scribes were quite comfortable beholden to him and did not want to rock the boat, so to speak.  This king they knew.  They had no idea what having a new king would mean for them, even if that king, that shepherd, were sent by God.

Herod sent the Magi off with instructions to return to him once they had found the newborn one so that he could go and likewise adore.  Or rather, so that he could annihilate the threat to his throne.  Lest you curse Herod, remember that he is a figurehead, a symbol for all of those who will recognize Christ’s significance but will not want to dispossess themselves, pick up their crosses, and so follow him.

So, we come back to the feast we celebrate, the Epiphany of the Lord.  We make a mistake if we think we are meant to be passive spectators of the proclamation of the Word or the celebration of the Eucharist.  We are meant to be transformed by both and then to be sent to live transformed lives in the midst of the people.  The Epiphany happens, the manifestation or showing forth happens through the transformed lives of service of those who have seen and have believed.  The Mystery cannot be clung to for selfish purposes only.  Certainly there is comfort and consolation in the hearing and in the Eucharist; but having been nourished we are then sent to make a difference in the world, to be the star seen at its rising, that is, to live lives that make no sense except for Jesus whose other self we are.  That can be seen only through the works that we do.

I am touched by the heroic responses of people going out to support their brothers and sisters caught up in the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes; and of those going in to Africa to work for the relief of AIDS victims, and to quell the abuse of women.  We must not miss the beacon that was the life of Nelson Mandela.  Then there was the child who let go of his mother’s hand and took the hand of the disabled man to help him cross the busy street.  And his mother watched in awe.

Regardless of their faith, whether they are Christians or non-believers, they proclaim the meaning of Epiphany, the showing forth of the love of God and the hope that is ours in Jesus, the Word made flesh.

Next week the Epiphany continues in the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.  Will we be ready?

Sincerely,

Didymus