Sunday, January 07, 2018

A Light for The Nations

A Light for The Nations

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. Isaiah 42:6-7

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased." Mark 1:9-11

@Pontifex: Baptism is also called ‘illumination’ because faith illuminates the heart and allows us to see things in a different light.

Everything that gets repeated is important. Some Bible readings get repeated annually. However, when a reading is repeated twice in a three-day period, then the Church is REALLY emphasizing something to which we better pay close attention.

Leaving the Christmas season and entering into Ordinary Time, the first Luminous Mystery we encounter is the Baptism of the Lord. This celebration illuminates how we approach the ordinary days of this ordinary year. Its juxtaposition right after the Epiphany of our Lord is quite intentional.

What does it say? Mark illustrates what happens by describing the event of the Baptism.  He reports the carpenter’s son stopped by the Jordan River for initiation and cleansing by his cousin John. This was probably only one of the dozens of ritual cleansings that John performed that day (when John was not snacking on locusts dipped in honey).

What does it mean? This was no ordinary Baptism. After John purified Jesus, Jesus purified the very waters where he bathed.  Then, the heavens opened up like they will not again until Jesus dies on the cross. The spirit of the Lord descends and rests upon Jesus. Plus, in one of only two occasions in the New Testament, the voice of God calls out announcing that this lowly carpenter’s apprentice was his Son.

Why was God pleased? Because Jesus – from the point forward – publicly commits his life to the will of the Father.  That is what pleased God.
Why does it matter? What is important is not just what happens at the event, but what the event required of Jesus – and of us -- in response. Our first reading from Isaiah relates to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord as a way to describe our post-baptismal mission and work. While these describe the mission of the “servant,” in the early Church and throughout Christian tradition, these servant-song poems apply not only to Christ and the Church-at-large but also to us.

One thing I like about this day is how closely it follows the Epiphany of the Lord when the person of Jesus as man and God became known to the visiting magi. The magi did not need a proclamation from on high to know that this child before them was special. The Maryknoll Fathers describe Epiphany this way:  Pagan foreigners using superstitious practices found Christ when leaders of the government, military and most popular religion of the day could not find Christ.

Now, as we segue to the Baptism, according to an article posted by “The entire earth became opened to the salvific action of Christ, through his baptismal immersion in the water.” Saint Maximus of Turin tells us in the Office of Readings:

Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched. For the consecration of Christ involves a more significant consecration of the water.[i]  

Maybe there is hope for us, too. If we keep an open heart and mind, always seeking the Truth, maybe we too can find God among us. But what will light our way? Pope Francis suggests that we begin by asking “What star we choose to follow in our lives this year?”

“Some stars may shine bright, but do not point the way. So, it is with success, money, career, honors, and pleasures, when these become our lives,” the pope said, adding that path won’t ensure peace and joy.

Yesterday, the Wise Men bowed to a baby. Today, the Savior bows before a man. Such humility is a precious and rare gift today. Those Magi took risks in crossing borders to seek Jesus. Jesus took risks in kneeling for Baptism before John.

Consider what stars/risks Isaiah suggests that we follow with our charity and action in 2018.

Bring forth justice to the nations
Grasp the hand of God just as God holds you in his palm
Illuminate the world for others as a covenant-light for the nations
Open the eyes of the blind
Bring out prisoners from confinement
Free from the dungeon those who live in darkness

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