MY SERVANT WHOM I UPHOLD!
Baptism of the Lord(A)
January 9, 2011
Readings: Is 42: 1-4, 6-7 / Acts 10:34-38 / Mt 3:13-17
We haven’t quite recovered yet from all the glitter and glamour, the glare and the glimmer of the big Christmas festivities. It is hard to think of the feast of the baptism of the Lord as anything less than what we have sort of gotten used to over the long Christmas celebrations.
But the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is not any less than the rest of the celebrations of the Christmas season, although totally ignored by mainstream media. It is a step forward, not backward. It brings in more, not less. It increases, not diminishes, our understanding of who Christ is, for us … for the world … for the Church! For it is part, no less, of the overall Christmas mystery of the Incarnation. It is part and parcel of the mystery, too, of God’s gradual self-revelation to the world, the Epiphany, which we celebrated just last Sunday.
Liturgy is faith coming alive in sign, song, symbol, ritual, and celebration. Liturgy is faith bursting forth in common prayer, and despite the seeming lack of the trimmings and trappings of the more solemn celebration of the birth of the Lord, every feast, every solemnity, every obligatory memorial, and ferial day Mass – everything we do in the Liturgy, adds a little more to that core body of beliefs that we, as Catholics hold as revealed.
The Christmas mystery is not only all about birth in a manger, surrounded by animals, and heralded by angels. This is the poetry of Christmas!
The Christmas mystery is not only all about wise men bringing gifts from afar, guided by a star. This is the pageantry of Christmas.
For beyond the poetry and pageantry is a deep and meaningful mystery that is explained by an equally meaningful theology – a theology that is lived, a theology that is celebrated, and a theology that is proclaimed and acclaimed in common prayer and common ritual, in sign, symbol, and song – and more! In the Liturgy, we remember. In the Liturgy, we celebrate. In and through the Liturgy, we believe.
What then is the sliver of our belief system that shines out in this celebration? Wherefore celebrate? What do the readings teach us about who Christ is for us?
The first reading gives the opening salvo in this unfolding, ongoing self-revelation of God to us. Isaiah speaks of “servant,” a servant who is lifted up, a servant that later on in the tradition of Isaiah, will be known as the "suffering servant," a man who, with gentleness and kindness, will save the world.
When the poetry and pageantry of Christmas is long gone, this is what is given to us in the more sedate feast of the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord. God is manifested. God is revealed to all men, beyond the shepherds, beyond the wise men from the east. God is not only revealed as God. He is also revealed as man, as "servant" who puts the values of this world upside down, and, as "suffering servant" will save his wounded people by being wounded, derided, cursed, and defiled himself.
The Baptism of the Lord is a story of the unexpected. He, the Word, through whom everything came to be, subjected himself to the forerunner John, and thus sanctified the waters of the Jordan, by asking to be baptized by John.
This, too, is a story of reversals. He who was worshiped by the wise men now puts himself under the ministry of John, and showed us for all time, that it is never ungodly to come down to our level; that the Incarnation is not just a deep mystery to fathom, but a palpable reality to acknowledge.
The Baptism of the Lord is a story of prodigality ... The Word incarnate who was with God from the very beginning, allows himself to be ushered into public life with a simple ritual by the banks of the Jordan river. He who was timeless and eternal, assumed an earthly beginning in time - the prodigality of a God who comes down to fully be one with suffering humanity.
He made a big difference in our human lives. He made a dent, and not just gave a message that grows stale with time. He came not just for a visit. He came to change the course of our lives, ironically, by joining us in the journey of earthly life, from the Jordan, to Caphernaum, to Jerusalem, all the way up to Calvary and the glory of the resurrection.
This is all a lesson for me on humility, on taking the back seat, on being considered at some point in time, as a "has-been." Yes, "been there; done that" has bloated men's egos disproportionately. We have grown too big for our breeches. A little success has gone into our heads. I see it everywhere ... I see elders of covenanted communities staying up there in the pinnacles of what they call "service" but from which they never want to come down. I see it in individuals who, after gaining a little knowledge, have become for all intents and purposes, dangerous beings. I see it in myself ... I see it in my fear and terror at being at some point in time, to be shunted aside for the sake of what I call "upstarts" who are pulling the rug from under my feet. I see it in government. I see it in the Church that I love - the jockeying for positions, the politics, the manipulation and the machination, the crab mentality that prevents us from doing a John who knew what it means to take a back seat: "He must increase, but I must decrease!"
Gone now are the poetry and pageantry of Christmas. Today, in fact, ends the Christmas season. The mystery of it all beckons us to ponder, but the palpable reality of God's humble prodigality in the Baptism of the Lord, calls us all to task ... to make a difference in people's lives, to dare to be different and not follow the bandwagon of success, fame, wealth, and power. The prodigality of God's humility in Christ His Son, convicts us, and teaches us to learn the path that leads to humble acceptance that we are not the center of the world, that it is not up to us to put ourselves atop pedestals and declare ourselves worthy of acclaim and adulation.
No ... it is God who lifts up "servants." It is God who lifts up the lowly to high places. Like He did with His Son, who, in the prodigality of humility at his baptism, was declared: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!"