Baptism of the Lord, Cycle B

Today is the end of the Christmas season. God himself is celebrating what is taking place in the Gospel: the Baptism of his Son in the river Jordan at the hands of St. John the Baptist.

In the First Reading, God speaks of Jesus as his servant who is about to begin something wonderful: his public life. He’s going to bring justice to the world, be a light for the nations, open the eyes of the blind, and free prisoners. God is keeping his promise through Jesus’ mission on earth: God is sending out the Savior today to get to work. During Christmas we celebrated the birth of the Savior. On today’s feast, the Baptism of the Lord, we’re celebrating him finishing his silent years in Nazareth and going out to preach salvation to the world.

In the Second Reading St. Peter rejoices that salvation is not just for the people of Israel, but for everyone who respects God and acts uprightly. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, he institutes a new kind of baptism. John talks about that baptism in the Gospel today as different from his: it is a baptism of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter in the Second Reading is speaking to Cornelius, who was the first non-Jew to be baptized in the history of the Church. The Jews thought originally that the Savior would only come for the Jews. But then the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter and the Church through Cornelius’ situation that the Savior was coming for everyone who feared God (respected God) and acted uprightly (acted in a good way).

The Holy Spirit always works little by little. Cornelius had heard about Jesus and his promise of salvation, and had been praying for a sign. Peter was praying too, and they didn’t know each other at all. Then an angel came to Cornelius and told him to send men to find and bring Peter. Cornelius was a Roman centurion, and since he wasn’t a Jew, Peter wouldn’t have visited him unless the Holy Spirit had said it was okay in a dream, since the Jews didn’t enter the houses of non-Jews. As Peter rejoices that the Savior has come for everyone, he recalls Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan as the beginning of doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil.

So we celebrate today with God, with Peter, with Cornelius, and with everyone who has become Christian since. We celebrate that Jesus began to go out and do good, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and free those who are imprisoned by sin.

So as we begin a new year, and the Christmas season draws to an end, Jesus’ private and public life show us it is time for us to get to work as well. In the Christmas season we’ve spent more time at home, resting, being with family and friends, receiving so many gifts, and getting ready to live the New Year better. It’s not a time for gloom and doom as we return to work, to school, to the daily grind: it’s time to show Our Lord we appreciate all He’s given us over the last year, and all He’s given us during the Christmas season. It’s time for us to get to work and get the word out about salvation. Cornelius heard about salvation from someone, long before he met St. Peter, and there are lots of Cornelius’ out there who are looking for what our faith has to offer. They are hungry for God.

Let’s thank Our Lord for the Christmas Season and the New Year that has just begun. Let’s keep moving forward on those New Year’s resolutions as a way to show gratitude to Our Lord for all the blessings He has poured out on us. Let’s pray for those who are suffering from hunger and war, so that they too can be blessed. Let’s pray for all those Cornelius’ out there to find and love God, to do good, and to find salvation.

Readings: Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7–11.

Epiphany of the Lord (2)

In today’s liturgy the Three Magi come from afar bearing gifts because they see the signs in the stars that a great king has just been born, great enough to warrant leaving their countries behind to see him and pay him homage. Yet the very fact of their arrival is the sign of something even greater sign.

Today’s First Reading speaks of how Jerusalem will be radiant when the Lord shines upon it, so much so that Jerusalem itself will attract others by its light to the Lord. Christ is like the filament of an incandescent bulb: without him there’d be no light at all. Yet a filament needs a bulb. Israel is the glass bulb. When Our Lord assumed human nature he chose a place, a time, and a people in which to become flesh, and that people, prepared by the Father, is Israel. Together they became a great source of light. Like a light bulb, that illumination is not just for Israel alone. All nations would be drawn to that light until they reflected it too. Isaiah said it would attract attention and gifts, a foreshadowing of the coming of the Three Magi.

In today’s Second Reading Paul recalls that all nations, not just Israel, would be able to benefit from the promises Our Lord has made through the Gospel. Israel thought for a long time that salvation was reserved to them alone, and that the Messiah would only come to save and lead them. In the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters we see the fledgling Church struggling with understanding that the Gospel was not just for the Jews, but for everyone. Paul received the revelation, along with the apostles, that their mission was to the Gentiles, not just the Jews. In Christ the divisions between Jews and Gentiles would end. All of humanity was called to his light. The Three Magi in today’s Gospel are the first signs of that fact.

Today’s Gospel teaches us that the light of Christ extends farther than we could ever imagine. The Three Magi represent all the peoples of the earth seeing that light in the distance—the distance of their situation, of their cultural differences—and heading toward it. A distant light, a star, became a beacon that led them to Jerusalem. The prophecy regarding Bethlehem led them closer to their goal, and then the star itself ushered them to the baby Jesus. The Three Magi needed help understanding the prophecies to keep going forward because astrology was not enough. If Our Lord assumed human nature in a specific place and culture that presented a gap to be overcome. Thanks to this episode we know that Christ’s light reaches to all the nations, and leads us above and beyond our own cultures. All the nations of the earth can benefit from his light.

Today’s culture is plagued by people seeking a higher meaning to things in all the wrong places. Astrology was not enough for the Three Magi, and it never goes the distance. People consult horoscopes, fortune tellers, Tarot cards, Ouija boards. They think they can wrest meaning out of higher mysterious forces.

Not only are all those things condemned by Church teaching as the sin of divination (see, for example Catechism 2115-2117), they are absurd, and not because what you might think. If we believe God is the Creator of Heaven and earth, and he came in Person to teach us and save us, why do we think we need gimmicks to understand his will for our lives?

He’s already given us all the answers we need in Sacred Scripture. We just have to ask him. The Three Magi needed a little help understanding the prophecy to move forward. God has also blessed us with his Church to help us understanding his will. Sometimes we need a little guidance to see that it may not be that God is not answering, but that we don’t like what he is trying to say. Through His Word and His Church Christ can be our guiding star.

Readings: Isaiah 60:1–6; Psalm 72:1–2, 7–8, 10–11, 12–13; Ephesians 3:2–3a, 5–6; Matthew 2:1–12.