The Baptism of the Lord, Year C — Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 / Psalm 104 / Titus 2:11–14; 3:4–7 / Luke 3:15–16, 21–22
Adam Booth, C.S.C., a friend and classmate, once remarked that his favorite liturgical season is always the one that just passed or the next one. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a true comfort, a delight to those of us prone to thinking longingly of other liturgical seasons. 🙂
This year we began with Isaiah 40. Even though we don’t hear this every year on an Advent Sunday, it holds strong on Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent. And, due to the influence of Handel’s Messiah, there is no other text that makes me feel the depth of the Advent season. We hear the stunning news–our guilt is expiated. But how? When? Why? By Whom?
Beyond this hope, the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. Glory! Sounds great. Still don’t know what it is. And, all people? Something new is happening. Suddenly, the relationship isn’t just about the Israelites. These questions are part of the longing and expectation of Advent. Hearing Isaiah 40 again, at the end of the Christmas season re-asks the questions. An implicit emphasis on how much more glorious, beyond all of our expectations, the answer really is.
In the Letter to Titus we get some nuts and bolts on the answer. And it sounds familiar. This text also appears (in part) during the Christmas Mass at Night and Christmas Mass at Dawn. Something has appeared. The Letter to Titus calls it the grace of God and the kindness and generous love of God. This savior, Jesus Christ, gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness. Now we see how it is that our guilt is expiated. God saves through Jesus Christ, our savior.
And, it is also through Jesus Christ that we find an answer to the curious question of how all people shall be incorporated and gathered by God. Through Jesus Christ, God cleanses for himself a people as his own. This mercy, not any righteous deeds we had done sets us apart. And, this cleaning isn’t some existential or philosophical purification. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. On Christmas, we humbly kneel at these awesome, remarkable words.
This incarnation continues to be revealed throughout the Christmas season. Epiphany after epiphany, one manifestation after another. Having already reminded us of our Advent questions and Christmas answers in Christ, the Gospel reading on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord puts the manifestation of Jesus as God’s incarnate Son in the clearest terms, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In case the coded symbolism of Jesus’ Davidic ancestry, the gifts of the Magi, or the shepherds’ adoration was a little cryptic, here’s the literal reminder–You are my beloved Son. Jesus is the incarnate Son of God. Our Savior.
In this collection of texts, the messages of Advent and Christmas are linked, and I for one, have joyous closure on the these wonderful seasons of the Liturgical year.