Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10 (R/. 11b); Acts 10:34-38; cf Mark 9:7; Matthew 3:13-17
Today, the Christmas season comes to a close with another epiphany of Jesus as God’s beloved Son. The importance of Jesus’ baptism is underlined in that the first three Gospels directly describe it, and John’s Gospel mentions it as having already happened. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? John the Baptist asks this himself in Matthew’s account. Jesus responds by saying, “To fulfill all righteousness.” Scholars interpret this remark as showing Jesus’ solidarity with sinners, those for whom he had been sent, even though he himself did not sin.
The central moment occurs when Jesus is coming out of the water. The Holy Spirit descends upon him, and, in Matthew only, the Father announces, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” More than a public service announcement for those present then, it proclaims to us now, Jesus is the Son of the Father.
He will go from this event to be tempted in the desert, and then into his ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and casting our demons. As we return to Ordinary Time, consider what tasks God has given to us.
Do you see your Baptism as rooting you in a life of service?
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29 (R/.2a); Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25 or 1:18-25
Readers often dread the long list of names in this Gospel. Name after name after name – strange names, foreign to us, flowing together in a litany evoking and ancient world. But if one takes time reading them, even proclaiming them, as if you were reading a roll call of one’s own ancestors, on begins to realize that each name is to be honored. Each is a son or a daughter (five interesting women are mentioned.) Each was part of Israel’s history, Jesus’ history, salvation history. God was at work in each of these lives.
Matthew’s genealogy also implies that Jesus did not come from a perfect family; but a family of sinners. That is not to say the Jesus or Mary were with sin; rather Jesus’ ancestors in the lines of Abraham and David, through fourteen generations after the Babylonia exile (560 years after the death of Amel-Marduk, the king of Babylon – in Jewish tradition, one generation was the equivalent of 40 years.) Like Jesus’ ancestors, we too are not perfect. We are sinners, and we welcome Jesus into our human family.
The story of Joseph concludes the genealogy with the angel’s command that Joseph name the child born of Mary and the Holy Spirit. The name to be given is Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” Tonight, we begin our Christmas celebration remembering that the Son of God, our Savior, was born into our human family.
What does it mean to you to have Jesus in your family and, by Baptism, to be in his?
Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (R/. 2a), Romans 5:1-5; cf. Revelation 1:8; John 16:12-15
Picture the Trinity. What do you see? Perhaps it is the traditional image found in paintings and stained glass of the Father as a dignified elderly man, the risen Christ standing or sitting by his side, and the Holy Spirit as a dove, hovering over the two. The effect is rather static, frozen in eternity. Better yet to take the lead of today’s readings about an energetic, dynamic, active, God – a God who delights in creating, pouring divine love into our hearts, endlessly calling us, wooing us, surprising us, guiding us to all truth, sharing with all of us.
The mystery of the Trinity, God as Father and Son and Holy Spirit, baffles the mind. Three in One, One in Three! Who can make sense of it? Again and again all mind, heart, and spirit can do is bow down in wonder and awe. We can come to this posture in different ways: experiencing our own delight in creation, opening our hearts to the person of Jesus found in the Gospels, and being attentive to the way the Spirit continues to work in our world and our lives.
How do you imagine the Most Holy Trinity?
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34 (R/. cf. 30); 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13 or Romans 8:8-17; Veni, Sante Spiritus; John 20: 19-23 or John 14:15-16, 23b-26
The Easter season ends with the feast of Pentecost, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. Scripture speaks of the Spirit as the gift of the Father and the Risen Christ, who continues the work of creation, redemption, and sanctification in us. Through the Spirit, we are able to enter more deeply into the life and love of the Trinity. Today offers several images of how we experience the Holy Spirit:
- As a mighty wind that blows open the doors, bringing in fresh air to a room full of fearful people;
- As tongues of fire warming the disciples’ hearts and sending them out to witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior;
- As the giver of all good gifts needed by the faith community for the benefit of our world and all its people; and
- As a gentle breath of the risen Lord, bringing peace and forgiveness.
The Spirit is truly the Gift that keeps on giving.
What image captures your experience of the Spirit?
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:19a, 20b; Luke 24:46-53
The Ascension brings the story of Jesus to its conclusion, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,” we profess in the Creed. On the other hand, perhaps that is not quite accurate. The story of Jesus does not really end; it is an ongoing one. The feast of the Ascension presents Jesus as returning to the Father and interceding for us as we continue the work he left us: to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. The Ascension releases the limits placed on Jesus when he walked the earth, preaching, teaching, healing, and driving out demons. Now he is present throughout the world through his Spirit given to his followers. Jesus has been given as “head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” But Jesus did not signal, “Mission accomplished!” The angels say to us, “Do not just stand there. Do something.”
How can you find in this feast both comfort and challenge?
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8 (R/. 4); Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23; John 14:23-29
To paraphrase Groucho Marx, “I don’t ever want to be in a club that would let someone like me be a member.” However, the opposite is usually the case. We do not want to belong to any club that would have anyone different from us as a member. The Church is one group meant to have the welcome mat out for everyone, if it is living out its calling. Of course, membership in the Church has its requirements. Baptism brings us into a community of faith given expression in its creed, ritual practices, and governance. Nevertheless, out knowledge of what is essential has developed over the centuries. Thank God for the Holy Spirit, who continues to guide us.
Today, we remember the direct connection between Jesus and the Spirit, “The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” The Holy Spirit continues to help us to “keep Jesus’ words” so that Jesus and the Father come to us and make their dwelling in us. The Holy Spirit is always at work to bring us into ever-deeper communion with the Trinity.
How have you experienced the Holy Spirit?
Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 (R/. 1); Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:29; John 20:19-31
Easter has escaped the busyness that surrounds Christmas: shopping, parties, get-togethers. In addition, when one thinks of Easter music, hymns and oratories come to mind, since there are only a few Easter songs. There seems to be something so sacred about this feast that even the merchandisers have refrained from commercializing it for the most part. Nevertheless, we do not want to forget that Easter reminds us of the gifts the risen Lord Jesus brings. We hear about them in the Gospel today. To the frightened apostles, locked into the upper room, Jesus suddenly appears with gifts that release them from their fears. First, he gives the God’s peace (shalom), that is, all God’s blessings that can enrich human life. Then he breathes the Holy Spirit on them, empowering them to offer God’s forgiveness to all who seek it. Finally, he gives to Thomas, and to all followers, the gift of faith in him as Lord and God. To live at peace with God and others, to have the capacity to forgive and receive forgiveness, and to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, these are Easter’s gifts to us.
How will you make use of these gifts this Easter season?