The whole of the Christian life is like a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father, whose unconditional love for every human creature is something we rediscover anew each day. And while this pilgrimage takes place in the heart of each person, it should also extend to the believing community, and then reach out to the whole of humanity.
Today we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, the beginning of His public ministry. It is a special moment in His Life. "This are my beloved in whom I am well pleased..." Jesus was, as most came to know, his own man - and he never did anything "by the book." John the Baptist pleaded with him that it was he who should be baptized. Peter argued that He would never wash his feet. The Pharisees pointed out that anyone who frequented with tax collectors and sinners could not possibly be the Messiah, the long-awaited conqueror. But Jesus reveals the startling difference that the reign of God will come about not through military conquest, but through compassion and peace ("a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench"). The Baptism of Jesus was a beginning - the beginning of the mission of compassion and justice, prefigured in the Servant passage of Isaiah and echoed by the heavenly voice.
Matthew's Gospel points out that the voice from heaven was actually directed to the crowd: "This is my beloved Son..." But in both Mark and Luke the affirmation is directed to Jesus: "You are my beloved Son..." When we finally and fully understand what has happened to us because of Christ's Baptism, and when we actually begin to live out the baptismal commitment we proclaim, we are then what Christ calls us to be - His witnesses, His peacemakers, men and women rooted in faith, powered by love, bringing the Gospel spirit and insight into every aspect of our lives.
The gift of Baptism is one in which all of us are entitled to hear: "You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased."
There is a very beautiful image in the Isaiah reading today. God says to the chosen servant, "I have grasped you by the hand." God does not just send us out on our own as we face the obstacles the world throws at us. Instead, like a loving parent with a little child, God takes us chosen ones by the hand. Isaiah's image seems to be what we hear throughout the Gospels: we are anointed by the same Spirit as Jesus was. We are beloved daughters and sons. God takes us by the hand and leads us as we work to establish God's justice and peace in the world.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord brings about the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of "Ordinary Time" in the Liturgical cycle. The Scriptures and Liturgies of Ordinary Time will remind us of the ongoing implications of our Baptism: that moment when God seized each one of us, made us His own in a special way, anointed us with His Spirit, and commissioned us to continue the mission of Jesus. This will be a time when we are again seized by God, anointed by the Spirit, declared to be His beloved: to be light - to bring justice - to heal the bruised - to help keep flickering lights from going out...
There are some hard facts about Christian spirituality: You have to "let go of" something in order to gain something else. You have to turn away from things that are destructive; you have to go out into the desert and purge yourself; you have to go under the water and come up - and leave the sins in the water; you have to remove the obstacles on the path...
If we can "let go" then Christ will truly be born, the beloved Child will emerge within us. All of us are bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. We are far from perfect, and rather consistently plagued by failure and selfishness. We are much too easily hurt, too easily discouraged. We fall short of expectations; we display our frailty like open wounds.
Yet despite this, the Lord has confidently chosen us to complete His work. We need to realize that we are living in a sacred space, populated by a multitude of folks who - like us - desperately want to be faith-filled: who sometimes get defeated, who sometimes get battered by life and bested by trials, and yet somehow, throughout it all, still cling to their faith.
At Christmas time, we are reminded again that God has entered our lives. But the Christmas season has now ended. Now it is time for us to decide, to choose, to realize, to act, to change our hearts. We are the ones to rearrange the manger scene in our personal lives, to allow the Spirit to lead us, and to accept the challenging commitment to live the difficult and demanding message of the Gospel.