Sunday, January 13, 2019

Homily – The Baptism of the Lord – Expect the Unexpected

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 10:34-38
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
               With Jesus, expect the unexpected.
               As we hear in today’s Gospel reading, “The people were filled with expectation.” 
               Was John the Christ? If not, who was the Christ and when would he come? Would the Christ be the expected military leader of Israel who would break the bonds of Roman oppression?
               As we heard last week at Epiphany, even Herod was worried about this potential challenger and all Jerusalem with him.
               With Jesus, expect the unexpected.
               This is the message this week for us all.
               With His baptism, Jesus is here to bring forth justice to the nations. Jesus is here to lead us all in the peace. Jesus is our true savior.  No one else can do this. Only Jesus.  
               The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah gives us a clue as to how he will lead,
               “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care."
               This is the one who will patiently govern with love and mercy. Not with divine force. Not with shouting. Not with judgment. But with divine love and mercy.
               With Jesus, expect the unexpected.
               Today, we’ve gone from the birth of baby Jesus to an adult Jesus being baptized in the River Jordan. We return to the culmination of the scene experienced throughout Advent of John the Baptist preparing people for the coming of God.
               There’s a reason we wear the color purple during Advent. Purple is the color of penance and preparation. Advent is a time of penance as we prepare for the birth of our savior and make our hearts ready for Christ’s coming.
               John asked us during Advent to cleanse our hearts, change evil ways so that we might be ready for the birth of Jesus.
               Sure. Advent is a season of expectant hope. But it’s also a time to ready the way of the Lord.
               John is the bridge to the promises made by God to His people and how Jesus fulfills them then and now. But John is only the herald, pointing to one greater than himself.
               Today, John also points to another great theme of Luke’s Gospel: the workings of the Holy Spirit.  As we hear John declare today, “(Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” More on that in a moment.    
               This weekend marks the official liturgical end of the Christmas season.
               For many in the secular world, the Christmas season ends around the New Year. That’s the time many take down their Christmas tree, pack away the Christmas ornaments and decorations for another year.
               Our family always waits until this weekend to go through this annual ritual. We celebrate the whole Christmas season. I’m sure there are many here who do the same.
               I’ve had neighbors ask why we keep our Christmas lights up and on until mid-January. It’s a great moment of evangelization to share that our faith tradition encourages us to celebrate the whole of the Christmas season.
               Our Catholic Church teaches us of the sacred nature of this time of year. The Christmas season celebrates God becoming flesh and dwelling among us in this world.
               “During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him… including the fact that he was born to die for us.” To die for our sins.
               “Every Eucharist is like Christmas where the bread and wine are transformed into His flesh, His Body and Blood, and in a sense, He is born anew on the altar.”
               Today, we see Jesus all grown up and baptized in the River Jordan. We see heaven open up and the Holy Spirit descend upon him like a dove. We hear the voice of God declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
               Notice here how Jesus is at prayer. Luke more than any other Gospel shows Jesus in prayer at important times in his ministry. This gives us all a good model to be in prayer at critical times in our lives.
               Today, we’re also are reminded of the day of our own baptism.
               Likely most of us don’t remember this event.  Infant baptism is the standard practice in our Catholic faith.
               That’s why it’s so special to witness baptisms at Mass and, as a community, welcome a new member to the Christian faith.  It gives us a glimpse of the joy our own parents and godparents experienced in this special moment.
               Bishop Robert Barron says, “To be baptized a Christian is to be grafted onto Christ and hence be drawn into the very dynamic of the inner life of God.”
               We become a member of His mystical body, sharing in His own relationship with the Father. We are called through our baptism to be instruments of God’s grace in the world and call others to Jesus by our words and our actions.
               Barron says, “Jesus is the Son of God by nature. We become, by baptism, sons and daughters of God through adoption. Baptism draws us into this relationship between the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the relationship between the Father and the Son. Baptism in a word is all about grace.  It’s about the breakthrough of the divine life. It’s about our incorporation through the power of God’s love into God’s own life.”
               Barron also says, “All of us are born into a deeply dysfunctional world. A world conditioned by millennia and eons of selfishness, cruelty, injustice, stupidity, and fear. What this has done is it’s created a poisonous atmosphere which conditions all of our thoughts and moves and actions.”
               We don’t choose this. We are born into it. This is original sin.
               Our baptism reverses this, draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity and God’s mission of love to the world. 
               This doesn’t mean we don’t still need the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation to keep us strongly connected to Christ. We all do.  
               The great 4th Century Theologian Gregory of Nazianzus said this about baptism: “Baptism is God's most beautiful and magnificent gift. . . . It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; (it is called) grace since it is given even to the guilty.”
               As Jesus reminds us, “It is not you who have chosen me, but I who have chosen you.”     
               With Jesus, expect the unexpected.
               As we pray on this most holy day, at the beginning of this New Year, let us meditate on the fact that all of us Christians should hear that same voice from God. That He is well pleased with us, that we are His beloved.   
               Bishop Barron calls this “the deepest truth of baptism.”

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