The Baptism of the Lord
Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
Bishop Untener's Homily
This feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the finishing celebration of the Christmas season. On Monday we begin "Ordinary Time" - that is, "Ordered Time" when the Sundays are marked by numbers: "The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time" and so forth. The next special season is Lent which begins 30 days from now. That will then be followed by another special season - the 50-day Easter season. Then "Ordinary Time" picks up again and continues for many months, until Advent, which this year begins on December 1st.
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord caps off the Christmas season because it expresses who this child was who was born at Bethlehem: This is the Son of God.
Thinking about the whole sweep of the liturgical year, and the full manifestation in this feast of who Jesus is, set me thinking. I wondered what would happen if I passed out half sheets of paper to everyone here, and I said that we'd take a couple of minutes for each of us to write down in 250 words or less what we would say if we were to explain to someone who knows nothing about Christianity, what we Christians believe. In other words, we have a way of seeing the story of God and of the universe and of human life. We have a story to tell. How would we write that story in 250 words or less? What would we say? What's the heart of it all, not bits and pieces, but the whole thing?
Now, one way to do it would simply be to write the Creed, which we'll be praying in a few minutes. That would be one way, and it would be less than 250 words. But I'd like to see what we would say if we tried to tell the same story in our own words, and in less philosophical and theological language.
Since it was my idea in the first place, I took a stab at it, and here's what I wrote. (For the record, it's 220 words.)
We believe that God created the whole universe, and God gave it a destiny. We believe that when Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb, God became part of this universe, and God began to bring it to the destiny given to it from the beginning. God was born into this world, lived in this world, died, and was brought through death to the destiny of all people and all creation at the heart of the Trinity. We believe that the Risen Christ now floods upon us the same Holy Spirit through which he was conceived. We are "divinized" - given God's own life within us, and we have become daughters and sons of God. We believe that God is specially present to the Church, which is the seed of what all creation is meant to become. We believe that at every Eucharist, the whole sweep of the movement of Jesus in giving himself entirely to the Father, ultimately in his dying on the cross, is made present to us so that we can enter into it: "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours Almighty Father.” And so, we look with faith, hope and love to the day when all will be well, and all creation will come home to God.
Well, that's one way of doing it. I can tell you this. There's something about knowing the whole story. We've got a great story to tell, a beautiful, hopeful story. And we need to know the story, think about the story, and keep it before us.
There are some things to point out about that story, at least as I told it. Notice that it begins with God and creation - that's where the Creed begins. You see, we believe that this is not a rotten, throwaway universe. God became part of it through the birth of Jesus.
There is a certain "Catholic" coloring to the story as I just told. It is very different from what some other Christians believe - those who would say that the universe is doomed and will one day be utterly destroyed. We believe in the "incarnation" - God became flesh, and there is now present in the world a goodness that outweighs all the evil put together, a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
The Eucharist is also critical to this story. The Eucharist is not simply a remembrance of what Jesus once did. The action of Jesus is made present to us, and we enter into it
I close with two thoughts. First of all, our beliefs are not all that many, and they're not all that complicated. It's simply that they verge on the unbelievable. They seem too good to be true. But that's what we believe, and that's what we profess every time we pray the Creed. If we take each of these simple truths and think about them, start to go to their depth, we are filled with wonder and awe. We realize that we hold astounding truths. For example, we believe that we have God's life within us - that God became human so that humans could become God. As youngsters would say, "it's awesome."
My second thought is this. It could happen that a person, attempting to write down what a Christian is, what we believe, would simply start listing what we're supposed to do, or not do. They might say, "Christians are people who are supposed to do such and such… or not do such and such." They'd start with morality. But that's the wrong beginning. We act differently because we see differently, and it's the seeing that makes all the difference. Notice, by the way, that there are no dos and don'ts in the Creed, no morality. Just profound truths.
When we believe these things, and realize what we believe, then we live differently. We live differently because we see the world differently, other people differently. We see the meaning of life differently. It's the seeing that makes all the difference.
Ah, we have a great story to tell. I'd like every youngster to know this story. I'd like every middle-aged person to know this story. I'd like every old person to know this story. It's not complicated. At every Eucharist we celebrate the whole story. We listen to the great truths of revelation, and then we place ourselves on the altar with the Lord, and then– wonder of wonders – we receive the bread and the cup, we receive the Lord at Communion, and we cross the threshold of time and are one with God, with all creation.
The Prayer After Communion at today's Mass says it very beautifully:
"God, you feed us with bread from heaven. May we hear your Son with faith, and become your children in name and in fact. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen."