1st Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
This reading from second Isaiah announces the end of the Babylonian exile and the return of the Israelites to their homeland. Those out in the desert are being called back (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 21). God makes it very clear that he wants every obstacle between God and God’s people to be taken away so that nothing keeps us apart. God wants to be fully in relationship with us. God wants to be with us in our journey, as hard as it may be. The path is paved with love. Richard Rohr says… Only when we are eager to love can we see love and goodness in the world around us. We must ourselves remain in peace, and then we will find peace over there. Remain in beauty, and we will honor beauty everywhere. How does this challenge you?
This reading can be a difficult one, because many of us still have mountains and valleys despite our prayers to level them. Perhaps Gerald May can help us in his writing on coping, “I have come to hate that word, because to cope with something you have to separate yourself from it. You make it your antagonist, your enemy. Like management, coping is a taming word, sometimes even a warfare word. Wild, untamed emotions are full of life-sprit, vibrant with the energy of being. They don’t have to be acted out, but neither do they need to be tamed. They are part of our inner wilderness; they can be just what they are. God save me from coping. God, help me join, not separate. Help me be with and in, not apart from. Show me the way to savoring, not controlling. Dear God, hear my prayer: make me forever copeless,” (The Wisdom of Wilderness, p. xiii – xiv). This is a new insight! Maybe the mountains and valleys are still there but feel leveled because God accompanies us. What do you think?
2nd Reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Titus is considered one of the pastoral letters of Paul (along with 1 & 2 Timothy) because it is addressed to an individual who is overseeing a congregation. Many interpreters think this letter is pseudepigraphical, or written in the likeness of Paul rather than by Paul himself. Or perhaps some of the letter was written by Paul but then expanded upon by an admirer. They think this for several reasons: 1) language and style are not typical of Paul 2) certain ideas and teaching are different from what Paul expresses elsewhere 3) church government seems too developed for Paul’s lifetime 4) how Paul deals with false teaching is not characteristic of him 5) some of the events mentioned in this letter do not line up with other key information we know about Paul’s life and ministry elsewhere. Titus is mentioned in Galatians and 2 Corinthians, and he was one of the first Gentiles to be attracted to the Christian faith (Gal 2:1-3; 2 Cor 7:6-8, 13-15). (Introducing the New Testament, p. 400-404). Regardless, there are important truths inspired by God that we are to learn.
In Jesus we get to see God’s power and mercy in action in our history at close range. And we need God close, because salvation that is far away can be hard to believe in. We suffer the ache of the particular, being born with this nose, these parents, this ethnicity and address, and no other. We’ve got to make do with certain talents and limitations. We’re stuck with the present generation, and can never return to the past nor fast-forward to the age to come. Hunkered down in time and place can be a terrible poverty when it comes to opportunity. And Jesus reveals to us that God is willing to share our poverty in order to save us from it. No other proof would do but to be here. What are some of the particulars of your life that are especially difficult? How does the revelation of Jesus speak to those? (Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan. 2004)
Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
We might wonder why it was necessary for Jesus to receive baptism. We know that John certainly considered himself unworthy to perform the act, but Jesus insisted that he be baptized along with the rest of the people on the banks of the Jordan River. Through this baptism Jesus was able to link his ministry with John’s proclamation. Jesus is no longer just the carpenter’s son in Nazareth (The Word into Life, cycle C, p.22)
This is a moment of Trinity. Jesus being baptized with the Holy Spirit descending and the Father speaking His words of love…all come together to transform this moment of baptism as sacred.
What kind of human experience was this in which Jesus hears a voice from heaven speaking to him? Scholars note that it is an experience in an altered state of consciousness or an experience of alternate reality. On average, 90% of the world’s cultures regularly have such experiences and find them useful and meaningful in their cultural context (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, cycle C, p. 20).
It is interesting to note that right after this section of Luke is a genealogy of Jesus. Right after the Father proclaims that Jesus is His Son, this genealogy cites one “son of” after another until it ends as Jesus being identified as son of Adam, son of God (Pilch, 20).
All of this speaks to the heart. “God looking into the dripping face of Jesus and seeing the whole big picture of creation and life and heavenly hosts and the throne of heaven. God looking at Jesus and seeing it all – glory and honor and power and might. God watching as Jesus came up from his knees and seeing justice and kindness and compassion breaking forth like the dawn. God seeing in Jesus the very plan of salvation radiant in its entire splendor. God wrapping the soaking wet Jesus in the warmth of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the magnificence of God’s own mercy is shining back at that moment, glistening in the water of baptism,” (Hungry, and You Fed Me, Rev. Dr. David A. Davis, p. 45). What speaks to you?