Fifty years ago this week I took my first airplane flight. We took off from Milwaukee heading for Chicago and then on to St. Louis. We were informed by the pilot that the radar in Chicago was “down” and we were out over the icy waters of Lake Michigan. Well fifty years ago there were less flights landing in Chicago I guess. We landed and took off again, but it was an adventure. I was heading for St. Louis to enter the Jesuits that day. A bit of a prologue to the adventures of the next fifty years.
I remember getting quite well-dressed up for being on an airplane. Everybody was in their finest. That continued for a while, people all dressed up in suits, shiny shoes, pretty dresses. Lately I notice that I myself am dressed-down when flying and most others keep their good clothes in their suitcases and carry-ons. Familiarity does such things.
Going to mass was also a dressy occasion years ago and still is, but not totally. Outward dressing is a reflection of something interior in us. As we prepare to attend this weekend’s liturgy, we might consider our interiors more carefully.
We might consider how our previous days have dressed or undressed our good spirits. We could reflect a bit how relationships around us have encouraged or discouraged our relationality, our personal stance before the loving God. What we actually wear to Church is secondary to our being aware of how we are and so how God is meeting us in the Word and the community and the Eucharist.
As during Advent so often, we hear today from the prophet Isaiah who is singing out inspired words to his people in captivity. Israel is quite dispirited and far from the glory it enjoyed back in its native and covenanted land. The prophet speaks to their hearts and memories. Isaiah is not speaking boastfully of himself, but of the whole people of Israel who are formed to be God’s “Servant”. By his personal call from God, Isaiah is to remind Israel that they too are God’s people and meant to reveal God’s glory and that glory will be revealed in the strength of their faith.
The Reading takes a quick right turn then. The restoration of Israel’s glory and unity is a re-creation of Israel, but God is not done with the re-creation of the world. It is not enough for God to keep the “light” shining only in Israel, but now it is to shine through that little nation. Salvation or light, will come to the ends of the earth through Israel’s being a Servant of God and the Servant, Jesus, will extend God’s saving love, beginning in Israel. The Epiphany will continue.
There is more going on in today’s Gospel than seems at first to be going on. To deepen our understanding of this section we must read the Prologue of John’s Gospel which comprises the first nineteen verses. Read especially verses 8, 9, and ten referring to John the Baptist or the one who testifies to the Light, Jesus.
Two weeks ago we remembered the Epiphany, last Sunday the Epiphany continued in His being announced as the Beloved at His baptism. We hear of the third “manifestation” of Jesus as the Christ, or “Chosen One” in today’s Gospel. There was a sect or group who believed that John was the Christ. Here at the very beginning of John’s Gospel, strong statements are made to clarify and establish Jesus as the Light, the Savior, the Messiah.
What’s going on? John the Baptist does more than say, “There goes Jesus.” He announces Jesus to be “The Lamb of God” Who, by being Lamb is the sacrificial Person Whose life and death will bring life back from the world’s death. John had announced Jesus as a person of Israel by his baptizing Jesus. God announced Jesus as the Beloved. John announces Jesus as the Savior of the world.
The second part of the reading is John’s clarifying that Jesus and not he, John, is the Messiah. John “saw” and now affirms is the Son of God. This “seeing” is the big theme for John’s Gospel. The Baptist tells his followers, “Behold”, look, see, over there, check Him out. Jesus as Light is meant to be seen. Jesus works signs in John’s Gospel to be seen. All who do see - really see, will be those who, like John the Baptist, testify by their words and signs that Jesus is the One.
This Gospel begins the long series of invitations to “Come and see”. We want to see how we are doing. God wants us to see the Epiphanies of God and in time, become Epiphanies ourselves. We have seen and the Light encourages
“The Lord has prepared a feast for me, given wine in plenty for me to drink.” Ps. 23,5
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