1st Reading -Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7
What does this tell us about God’s chosen one? “God’s Servant brings forth justice carefully, caringly and gently, so gently as to refrain from breaking bruised reeds and from quenching smoldering wicks. In other words, the Servant has respect for persons who are weak, fragile and in jeopardy. His manner of bringing justice matches the goal of justice which he enacts. As a result of his efforts in the cause of justice, healing, freedom and reconciliation are to be experienced by ALL,” (Brueggerman, W. Texts for Preaching). Think about how people who may feel forgotten by God – like at the time of this writing (Babylonian Exile) – hear this reading.
This is the first of four ‘suffering servant’ songs from the second part of the Book of Isaiah. The prophet wishes us to see that God acts through this chosen servant to nullify the power of evildoers and so to restore the harmony and peace that arises where God’s justice is acknowledged and lived. Jesus must have loved the Book of the Prophet Isaiah for he modeled his life on these words concerning what it is like to be God’s servant. From his baptism on, Jesus knew that he was called and empowered to be this servant – to bring light, and sight, and freedom to all in bondage. God’s justice was one of compassion for all. Like Jesus by our baptism we are called to do likewise – to try to reproduce God’s justice in the world: father the fatherless, mother the motherless, welcome the stranger, feed the traveler, be hospitable to the alien. By trying with intelligence and perseverance to love all who touch our lives, we can help to bring God’s steadfast love into the reality of our everyday life. (Celebration, January 2005)
2nd Reading – Acts 10: 34-38
Cornelius was gentile – a non Jew – yet Peter, a faithful Jew, became convinced that he too could be baptized and become a follower of Jesus. What line speaks to you the most here?
The pattern of Jesus’ life is the pattern for our lives. We are to ‘put on the Lord Jesus’ as Paul would say. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection must be a part of how we live our baptism: we are to die to selfishness and rise to the needs of others. We are to show no partiality by dying to harsh judgments and blind prejudice as we rise to seeing all people as loved by God. We are to die to grudges and revenge as we rise to forgiveness and reconciliation. We as the Body of Christ must live as Christ would in the concrete situations of our day. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002)
The Gospel– Jesus’ Baptism – Matthew 3: 13-17
In first-century Israel there were two seasons: rainy (late September to late April) and dry (early May to early September). Most stayed inside during the wet season, so during the dry season people wanted to be out and about, a very important Mediterranean activity. When John was baptizing, it was probably the beginning of the dry period, The Jordan River would still be filled with water and warmed by the sun. Jesus’ baptism by John is one of the most certain historical events recorded in the gospels. Its significance caused the early Christians first some embarrassment and gradually great insight. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http:/liturgy.slu.edu)
There is a special irony in Jesus’ baptism that speaks to the central message of the redemptive mystery. Jesus enters into radical solidarity with all people, taking upon himself even the condition of our sinfulness, himself having not sinned. The “one more powerful” assumes the position of weakness. It is precisely in this that he is beloved, and it is from this that he is sent. But how could he be fully human, like us, if he did not sin? We misunderstand this, because we misunderstand our humanity as well as our sin. Jesus reveals to us not only what God is like; he also reveals to us who we are. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Jesus’ encounter with his calling and identity at his baptism is the starting point for all that he will undertake. It is because Jesus knows who he is that he does as he does. He trusts the truth that he is God’s beloved; he refuses, even in the face of suffering and death, to believe the lie that God is distant, uncaring, or condemning. At baptism, we are also called sons and daughters of God. In fact, our baptism is our acceptance of that truth. Like Jesus, we need to let that truth fill our lives and overflow into all we do and are. We are never just consumers or spectators or travelers or workers – all of us are God’s beloved. (“Working with the Word” http://Iiturgv.slu.edu)
How do we live as The Beloved, especially in a world that is constantly trying to convince us that the burden is on us to prove that we are worthy of being loved? The world is evil only when we become its slave. We must see it through the eyes of faith. Knowing we are the Beloved will set us free and help us let go of what distracts us, confuses us, and puts us in jeopardy of the life of the Spirit within us. Put simply, life is a God-given opportunity to become who we are, to affirm our own true spiritual nature, claim our truth, appropriate and integrate the reality of our being, but, most of all, to say “Yes” to the One who calls us the Beloved, (Nouwen, N., Life of the Beloved, p. 130-131).
My friends, we tend to think of Baptism as a nice little celebration with babies, (like we have today) right? Well, it’s more than that. Baptism is a time to celebrate new life in our family, in our parish, and in our church. Baptism can free us from hopelessness and give us the power to change the world. What we hear of in the Baptism of Jesus today and when we reflect on our own Baptism, we see that Baptism really is much more.
Something very powerful happened on the day Jesus lined up with the rest of the people to be baptized by John the Baptist. John baptized people as a sign of their repentance, their desire to change their lives in order to be ready for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus, personally, had no need to repent; had had no sin. Still, he joined with the people to be baptized.
As Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, he heard a voice say, “This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests.” With that my friends, Jesus’ preaching began. Jesus set out to teach the world about his Father. He did not go out with a message that God was just his Father. Rather, he taught us all to call on God as “Our Father.” Today’s second reading tells us that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power. The power he received made him able to heal the sick and free the captives. The power of Jesus would change the world.
In our own baptism, God says to each of us, You are my beloved son or daughter; on you my favor rests. When we think of people who have been chosen by God to do great things, we seem to always think of other people. We think of people like St. Kateri Tekakwitha, or Mother Teresa, or Pope John XXIII, or our own mother or another powerful person in our life. However, none of these great people had anything that you and I do not have. We have been given the greatest possible honor, we have been chosen by God to be God’s children, and we have been filled with the greatest of all powers: the power of the Holy Spirit. We have been anointed with the same Spirit as Jesus and have the same power. We, too, have been called to bring justice to our world of injustice, compassion to our harsh world, and peace to our world of violence.
In our baptism, we joined with Jesus Christ, who was anointed priest, prophet, and king.
Friends, Jesus joined with a sinful people to be baptized by John. Now, Jesus offers us, a sinful people, the chance to join him in Baptism. Jesus shares with us the glory of being a child of God, and his spirit, the same spirit who appeared as a dove and endorses Jesus’ mission, fills us with the power to bring justice, love and peace to our world. So as we close the Christmas Season today let there be no doubt that Jesus has invited us to know that what is asked of each of us is that we live and share the promises made at our own baptism today and every day.