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The real work of Christmas

January 11, 2015

Baptism of Our Lord
A reflection for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, year B. The readings are Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38 and Mark 1:7-11.

The Church tells us that today marks the end of the Christmas season and today we see a very different image of Jesus that we’ve been seeing the last couple of weeks: The baby is replaced by a very grown man. The supporting characters of the young married couple looking for a place in the Inn are replaced by the a character who lives in the desert and wears clothing made of camel’s skin. The flying angels are replaced by the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove and instead of hearing choirs singing Gloria, we hear the voice of God the Father.

I’ve said this before: I find it a bit confusing – is today the end of the Christmas season, or the beginning of Ordinary Time? In my parish, all the Christmas decorations have been taken down. Isn’t it true that the Christmas season is the time when we get to listen to all the stories about when Jesus was a child? But Jesus was baptized as an adult! And the Presentation at the Temple, which happened when Jesus was very much a baby – 8 days old – does not happen for another three weeks, on February 2nd. Why is that not part of the Christmas season? I was told today that the Vatican leaves all their Christmas decorations up until February 2nd. In fact, that’s what it used to be. I’ve been told by some who remember before Vatican II that the Christmas season used to end on February 2nd.

Part of the reason why it’s confusing is that the early Church didn’t celebrate Christmas. They celebrated The Feast of the Theophany. Theophany means “manifestation of God.” It’s similar to “Epiphany”. Any manifestation of God is a “theophany”. When God appears to Moses in the burning bush, that’s a theophany. The Feast of the Theophany commemorated three manifestation events: The manifestation of God as a human being in the Nativity and the Incarnation; The manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God, in the Baptism – because the heavens were opened and the Father’s voice was heard, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The baptism is also a manifestation of the Trinity because the Father’s voice is heart, the Son is baptized and the Spirit descends. And the third moment is a manifestation of the divinity of Jesus as expressed at the Wedding at Cana because according to the Gospel of John this is when Jesus performs his first miracle. Next year (during the Liturgical Year C), we will hear that Gospel on the Sunday following the Baptism Sunday. Some of us have friends or relatives in the Ukrainian Church or in the Eastern Rite or Orthodox Churches. They say that they celebrate Christmas on January 6th, but they are not really celebrating Christmas; they are celebrating the Feast of the Theophany, which includes 3 “manifestation” events.

So we have three moments, but the Theophany is really centred in the one event of the Baptism, because the manifestation that we celebrate today is huge. It’s not every day that we hear God’s voice. That doesn’t happen at the birth of Jesus. Angels are flying around and singing, but we don’t hear God’s voice. It doesn’t happen when Jesus is on the cross. God is very much absent when Jesus is on the Cross. It doesn’t happen at his resurrection. And those are three important moments. We hear God’s voice today, at Jesus’ baptism.

I’m sure that thousands of books and articles have been written as to why Jesus needed to be baptized – I won’t comment on that, because I don’t know – but I am going to suggest that Jesus had to be baptized so that from then on, at every baptism, the heavens would be opened and the Father’s voice would be heard. That’s what happens at baptism. In fact, that’s what happens with every Sacrament because the Sacraments are a meeting of heaven and earth. Every Sacrament is a marriage of the human with the divine – but more so at baptism: The Heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends and the Father’s voice is heard. When we are baptized maybe we don’t hear God’s voice – maybe we aren’t paying attention. But at every baptism God says, “This is my beloved son, my beloved daughter… You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”

Most of us are OK with the idea that God loves us, but how do you feel about the fact that you are God’s beloved? You are God’s beloved. How many beloveds do you have? Your husband or wife? Your boyfriend? Maybe you can say that your children are beloved… There are 7 billion people in the world and you are God’s beloved! We can’t even begin to imagine how much God loves us. If you think about the person in your life who loves you the most; that will always love you, no matter what; God loves you a million times more. And it’s for everyone; no matter who you are, or what you’ve done. The guys who killed the 12 people at Charlie Hebdo in France; they are God’s beloved. God doesn’t approved of their actions, but he loves them. We are all, no matter what, God’s beloved. You don’t even have to do anything. You are God’s beloved. When Jesus was baptized, he hadn’t done anything, still God said, “you are my beloved.” Just because you are who you are.

But that moment of baptism was the beginning. Baptism is only the beginning of the journey. St. Peter tells Cornelius and his family and friends in the second reading that Christ’s ministry began with the baptism and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I don’t have time to get into the Cornelius story, but it’s a great one that I encourage everyone to read. Go look it up in Acts 10. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit so He could begin his ministry. And what was his ministry? To proclaim the Good News? Yes, but there’s more. To forgive our sins? Yes, but there’s more than that. To save us so we can go to Heaven? Yes, but there’s more. To do good and heal those oppressed by evil? That’s what Peter tells Cornelius. Yes, but there is more. Jesus came to give us His life. Imagine having the very life of God inside of us. The second reading ends with Peter saying that Jesus was able to do all these things “for God was with him.” That’s what happens at every Sacrament, we receive the very life of God. And it begins with Baptism.

Jesus heals those oppressed by evil by giving us His life. That’s us: Those oppressed by evil. All of us are oppressed, imprisoned, enslaved. We are the bruised reed and the smoldering wick that Isaiah speaks of in the first reading. Jesus gives us his life so that we can be healed of our bruises and our smoldering-ness and so that all those things Isaiah says can come true: The eyes of the blind (us) are opened; prisoners (us) are freed; those who are in darkness (us) can see the Light.

The Second Vatican Council tells us that by virtue of our Baptism we have a call to holiness. That means we are all created to go to Heaven; that’s where we are meant to go. That’s plan A (plan B is not all that desirable), and we all have a call to mission so we can bring others to Heaven with us. Jesus was anointed at his Baptism so He could begin his mission. We too, are anointed at our Baptism and at our Confirmation (and with all the Sacraments, as in every Eucharist), not so that we just go home and enjoy God’s Grace – but so that we can join Him in His mission: the mission to holiness and the mission to mission!

American author Howard Thurman wrote:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Today may be the end of the Christmas season, but today is when the real work of Christmas begins. The work of our Baptism.

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From → English, Reflections

One Comment
  1. Lie Sukardi permalink

    Thank you for writing this! I always enjoy reading your articles. It is a reminder of why i am here and now that you mentioned about mission, it asked me how is my mission going so far. Thank you!

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