The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord ends the Christmas Season with yet another theophany, or manifestation of the presence of God in our history. God with us – Emmanuel – is celebrated in the nativity scene, when under the protection of Joseph, the Virgin gives birth to Son, wraps him in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger. It is celebrated in the epiphany scene, when wise men of diverse beliefs do homage to this Child, homage that is accepted in manifestation that this God-with-us is not only for the Jews but for all. It is celebrated in Jesus’ growing up in Nazareth with Joseph and Mary, advancing in wisdom, age and grace, but not without clearly asserting that he needed to attend to his Father’s business.
In today’s Feast, John, once the babe that leaped for joy in the womb of Elisabeth as the the babe Jesus in the womb of Mary approached, now baptizes Jesus with water, even though he declares himself unworthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. For Jesus, who had no sin, the baptism was consistent with his mission: solidarity with humanity seeking moral rectitude and righteousness in the preaching and baptism of John. His action occasions a profound theophany: “After Jesus had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’” (Lk 3:21-22). The Trinitarian theophany is divinity breaking into human history, as it would again during the transfiguration. Here, in the face of the mounting opposition that Jesus’ provocative preaching of his Father’s Kingdom had occasioned, the splendor of Jesus’ truth and identity is manifested, and we are told, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him” (Mt 17:5).
Unfortunately, listening to him is something we are not very good at doing. There is too much noise. There is too much stress. We are too engaged in our pressing personal concerns. Jesus is the Word, but we do not hear it. He is the Word-made-flesh but we do not feel it. He is the Word that dwells among us, but we do not notice. He is the Word in the manger but we do hear it. He the Word on the Cross gazing at us, uttering a message of love. But we do not hear it. There is no time to listen. There is too much interference.
In our second reading, Titus says, ““Beloved: The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly 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…” (Titus 2:11-14). As the season of Advent began in recalling the hope we share in the second coming of Jesus as our great God, Savior and eternal Judge, the Christmas Season ends in this same recollection. In this unjust and confusing world, our hope is in the justice that Jesus, the Just Judge, shall bring at the end of time. Our hope is in finally being able to hear the words of the just and merciful judge: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mt. 25:24).
Meanwhile, what we celebrate today is that in our history, “the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age.”
Perhaps, in a quiet moment, we must ask ourselves how that grace of God appears. Just in reviewing the past Christmas Season with all of its hectic yet gifted activities, how did we then celebrate “the appearance of the grace of God” that saves us from our pettiness, our stubbornness, our small-mindedness, our disrespect for one another, our quarreling our wrangling, our violence, our hatred? It is the appearance of the grace of God in our lives that “trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age. “ But would “godless ways” be? Would it not be the following: if God is love, all the ways that are loveless; if God is peace, all the ways that are unjustly quarrelsome and divisive; if God is compassion, all the ways that are arrogant and judgmental. What would “worldly desires” be? Would they not be all our desires that oppose the Kingdom of God for values and purposes that contradict respect of individual persons and the common good? What would “living temperately, justly and devoutly in this age be”? Would it not mean living according to the discerned promptings of the grace of God: not living in excess, because the grace of God fully satisfies, not living in injustice, because the grace of God restores justice, not living in impiety, because the grace of God impels us to manifest our love of God in life, worship and joy?
The grace of God has appeared. May it be present and manifest in our lives.