For two weeks now we have been praying with the impact of the One God’s becoming one of and with us. We have celebrated His birth, entrance into the Jewish religious community, and the acknowledgement of the “ends of the earth” that Jesus is worship worthy. Today, in most sections of the Church, Jesus is pictured as the “servant-Messiah” foretold by the Prophet Isaiah.
We are invited to pray in preparation for this feast by reflecting on the implications of our own being baptized into Christ. We can pray for the soul-ears to hear God’s blessing of us and soul-hearts to live beyond our own personal images of our selves. We pray with the “who” the Spirit says each of us is. It is a dignity which calls for prayerful care and reverence.
Our First Reading is the first of the four Servant Songs from the Book of Consolation ascribed to the Prophet Isaiah. It foretells a particular person who will be especially pleasing to the Lord and who will have a special mission to accomplish. He will work for “justice” which is different from vengeance or “an eye for an eye.” The reconciliation between God and creation resulting in a relationship which results in all human beings recognizing and worshiping the One God, is true “justice”. This true “justice” between God and us will then result in our being relational and reverent with all of God’s creation, including all human beings.
The “blind”, the “prisoners”, and those who live in “darkness” will be brought out into the light, by the “light” and that “light” will illumine the true identity of all God’s people, all the “nations”.
This “servant” will not be violent or be calling attention to himself, but will extend the Hand of the One Who has anointed him. God is readying creation and all nations to have a new view of the face of God. The Holy People will extend the light of the holy identity to all peoples so that all might live with justice toward God and each other.
The Second Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, is a portion of Peter’s presentation concerning how Jesus went about completing the mission of his being Servant after having been baptized. The “peace” Jesus proclaimed is this same sense of “justice” which was first addressed to Israel and then to all. “justice” streams from the recognition that God is God of all and there is One God of all.
The Gospel opens with an Advent statement in the words of John announcing who he is and the coming of the One Who is mightier. After that little introduction, we watch Jesus appear as the Jewish man He truly was, following the religious tradition of His tribe. He went down into the waters of the Jordan in accordance with His traditions and upon coming out, He was announced in public to be the One Waited for. Mark’s account puts strong emphasis on Jesus’ hearing and seeing that He was Who has now come. His baptism was not a cleansing from sin, but the occasion of His coming up out of the same river that the nation Israel crossed to begin their identity as the blest people of a holy land. Jesus is announced as the “beloved,” He hears this, believes this and lives out in His what being “the beloved” will mean.
We are the “you” whom John foretells Jesus will baptize with water and the Holy Spirit. We begin the following of Jesus by our being baptized into our being “My beloved; with you I am well pleased.” What this means is the challenge of every Eucharist, every sacrament, every moment of our lives is sacred in the reception as well as the out-living. Paul Tillic once wrote that faith was “accepting acceptance.” Baptism is more than our entering the Christian community as if it were a social club. Baptism is more than our being freed from Original Sin. As true as these two features are, they are necessary elements of the more important reality of Baptism which is our being a “new creation” in Christ. We are in Him and are invited to know who God says we are, and sees who we are, and relates with us according to how God has formed us and called us as the “beloved.”
My parents returned from Teacher Conferences after my first two months at the Jesuit high school I was attending in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They came home late and I was already asleep, but worried why they were late and what had they heard. The next morning my father came downstairs for his cup of coffee and what he said to me, obviously, has remained with me. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Your mother and I are very proud of you.” That’s all, that was more than enough for me. I was not getting grades of excellence, far from that. I don’t know what the teachers told them, I do know to this day what my father told me. From that moment, my grades improved, but more, my sense of who I was and wanted to be.
We will be watching Jesus these next months living out, through actions of love, Who He knew Himself to be. We follow Him most closely by living outwardly in actions of love, our being loved and accepted by our Creator and Redeemer. God is not proud of us for what we do. God loves us and loves through us by what we are and do. We may not be getting grades of excellence in what we do. Our excellence is in whom Jesus calls us to be in ourselves. We do well each morning to spend some time with a cup of coffee or tea and hear directly spoken to us, that we are the “beloved” of God.
“He went about doing good and healing
all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”
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