Psalms 98:1, 3-6
There's a bit of wisdom easily overlooked in the Church's way of counting seasons and time, in its liturgical calendar. We celebrate the Christmas season for about two weeks. During this fortnight, we not only revel in the light of the nativity of Jesus, son of Mary and Son of God, we also remember St. Stephen, the first martyr (December 26), the Holy Innocents (December 28), and the Holy Family (December 31).
Early in January, we remember the Feast of Mary the Mother of God and the titular feast of the name of Jesus to the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits (January 1), and then turn our attention to Saints Basil the Great and and Gregory Nazianzen (January 2), and move to the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a marvelous American woman (January 4). Finally, St. John Neumann, a German immigrant to America, comes along (January 5) before the end of the Christmas season in the Feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord.
What is moving about the Church's reckoning the passage of time is that it always reminds us of the way things really are. In other words, the Church never lets us live in a fantasy world of giddy unreality. It never allows us to avoid ourselves and the world's needs too long. In the same breath, however, the Church encourages us by recalling the lives of martyrs and missioners, women of passionate yet practical faith and men who knew what is was to be an alien in a foreign country -- all for the sake of the passion, the fire of love of God and God's people.
Today's gospel reading gives us the same balanced reading of life here on Earth. We live trying lives but with encouragement to see things as God sees them. We get a glimpse of Jesus as John the Baptizer sees him. Jesus is the "lamb of God." The appellation is not lost on John's hearers. Lambs are for feasting and for sacrifice; both are implied in the naming of Jesus by John.
John knows two things as he speaks in today's gospel. First, he knows that he is not the Messiah, the Christ. He baptizes with water, to purify and help us take, somehow, the a step back toward God. We take John's lead and turn away from our brokenness and sin, even in our celebration of the great event of the Incarnation. Second, John knows when he meets Jesus that this "lamb of God" is the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit, the passionate powerful wind that embraces us exactly as we are but finishes the job of purification and healing.
May the end of the Christmas season be good to you because the Holy
Spirit of God takes your hand and helps with your next right step.
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