BAPTISM OF THE LORD
January 13, 2013
FOR THE GRACE OF GOD HAS APPEARED!
Today’s feast definitively closes the Christmas season. Gone ought to be all the tinsel and the foil, the trimmings and trappings of a romanticized Christmas, that is, for the most part, meant to be for kids, to perk up their sense of wonder at the miraculous “Christ-event” that has changed the course of world history.
But the child not only grows in age and wisdom. We, too, ought to rise above the childish level of tinsel and foil, and claim for ourselves the responsibility that the Christmas and Christ-event has imposed on us.
Let us look for some clues straight from today’s readings!
First, the reading from Isaiah, it must be admitted, sounds like soothing balm to aching hearts and like much needed prop-up support to our sagging spirits. “Comfort, give comfort to my people … her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.” Is this a repeat, then, of the spirit of Advent – when we were told to lift up our eyes and see the glorious coming of the Lord?
A repetition, it definitely, is not, but a confirmation, rather, of what we, in the rich heritage of Christian faith, hold on to in faith, in trust, in the conviction that something else, something more, something glorious awaits those who believe and remain steadfast till the end.
I would like, personally, to hold onto this – and more!
What is this that we all need to hold onto in faith? Let the second reading from Titus remind us … “The grace of God has appeared!” The promised comfort of Isaiah in his Book of Consolation so called, has come. “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject Godless ways and wordly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.”
The grace of God has appeared! We all have heard many stories of people who pray for the visitation of God on them, but then when God comes, they miss him altogether. In the Second Book of Kings, we are told how God was expected to be in the earthquake, in the thunder, in the lightning, but when He came in “a gentle wisp of wind,” nobody noticed.
In the Gospel passage, we are presented with something so real, so true-to-life. Like us, the people then were “filled with expectation” and everyone was asking whether John was the Christ. It is easy to mistake one for the other. It is easy to get lost in the face of so many wonders being wrought by both John and Jesus. But only one was the Christ. Only was Lord! Only one was God!
And it took a humble man who knew his place and who knew where his role began and where it ended to know and tell. He minced no words and lost no time in telling people: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”
We all could learn a lesson or two from John – a lesson on discernment. Among other things, discernment stands for the ability to sift the chaff from the grain, to see the difference between the essentials and the non-essentials; the capacity to know when one has to enthusiastically take to his role and go to center stage, and when one needs to humbly start taking the back seat, like the faithful servant who, at some point utters: “He must increase, and I must decrease!”
John baptized in water. He did his role mighty well, and with utter fidelity. But he was in the limelight not too long. Soon, the one whose way he prepared for came to the scene, and taught a greater Baptism, not just of water, but of the Spirit from above.
Our times are no different from John’s. We see so many things around us. We experience so many different events, many of which dampen our hopes, and inundate what is left of our enthusiasm. We see death and defeat everywhere. We see discouragement and despondency all around us. I, for one, at times, feel that all we do has just come to naught, defeated by the greater pull of the convenient, the fake, the popular, and all that glimmers and glitters, at least, for a time. The world of higher spiritual values, no longer attract the attention of so many, and, to be honest, some of us may rightly or wrongly, feel we are not appreciated.
John’s role was about to diminish and recede altogether. In the Lord’s Baptism, no less than God visited His people, and John was the first to see, the first to acknowledge, and the first to accept no matter how unacceptable. His job was done. It was time for him to go and fade into the sunset.
For God’s grace has appeared in Christ: “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’”
God’s grace, has, indeed, appeared! Tell me, what do you see?