The universe is vast, precise and infinite. The more we seek to find the endpoint, the more we realize the magnitude of space and time is something to behold. We know who created the universe. As Catholic Christians, we begin the Creed with these words, “I believe in one God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth … ” Thus, it makes sense to look to the sky as a compass for travel and time. Therefore, we begin the new calendar year (the Gregorian calendar year, based on solar and lunar measurements) with a star and the opening of heaven. The Sunday Mass readings during the next two weeks illuminate the mysteries of Jesus’ infancy in the Epiphany of our Lord and the beginning of Jesus’ public life, his baptism.
Mystery of Jesus’ infancy: Star light
Approximately 2019 years have passed since the heavens opened to reveal the glory of God in the Incarnation: God becoming man. The seemingly quiet village of Bethlehem became the birthplace of the Christ, a place told by the prophets of old. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you” (Is 60:1). Hovering above “the city of David” was an extraordinary radiant star. St. Pope John Paul II writes, “In a certain sense, in pointing to the light the prophet is pointing to Christ. As it shone for the shepherds seeking the newborn Messiah, so this light shines today on the path of the Magi, come from the East to adore him who was born King of the Jews” (Homily, Monday, 6 January 1996). The star points to an intersection of heaven and earth: God and man.
The wise men represent the gathering of all humankind into the family of God. As the psalmist exclaims, “Lord every nation on earth will adore you” (Ps 72). The Jewish people expected the Messiah to come. Even King Herod, the Roman appointed “King of the Jews” during this period, was aware of the prophecy. However, he had to consult with the experts of that day to help refresh his recollection of exactly where the new king would come from. “The wise men coming in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the Star of David, the one who will be king of the nations” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church #528). Thus, Herod was “troubled” at the inquiry of the wise men, for instead of embracing his true kingship, he invested time and money in building projects and power.
St. Paul reiterates the grace given by God through Jesus Christ as “the stewardship of God’s grace for all.” As faithful Christians, what are we to do with such grace? St. Pope John Paul II continues, “The apostle’s task is to spread the Gospel throughout the world, proclaiming to mankind the redemption wrought by Christ and to lead all humanity on the path of salvation, manifested by God on the night in Bethlehem. The church’s missionary activity, through its many stages down the centuries, finds its starting point and universal scope in the feast of Epiphany.” How do we begin this mission? We start with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Mystery of Jesus’ public life
“Let us be buried with Christ by baptism to rise with him; let us go down with him to be raised with him; and let us rise with him to be glorified with him” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus.)
The prophet Isaiah speaks of the chosen one of God, “who will be filled with the Spirit, bring justice, be a light for all nations, open the eyes of the blind, release the imprisoned and pulled others out of the darkness of dungeons” (Is 42:1-7). Henceforth shall those who follow this Chosen One be blessed with peace (Ps 29). Jesus came because of mercy. From his ministry comes the power of the Holy Spirit to heal and expel evil, thus conquering sin and bringing salvation to all who accept his gift. So where is the beginning of our path to salvation?
Theophany & Epiphany
Upon insistence, Jesus allows St. John the Baptist to baptize him in the Jordan River, the very same river Joshua led the Israelites through as they reached the promised land (Jos 3:14-17). Jesus is far from need of baptism of repentance for he is free from sin. “The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering </span id=”11″>servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ Already he is anticipating the baptism of his bloody death.’ Already he is coming to ‘fulfill all righteousness,’ that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his father’s will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins” (Catechism 536). Out of love and mercy, Jesus is the WAY for us to crossover into heaven, as he sanctifies the waters for our baptism into his family.
On that day the heavens opened and a theophany was experienced: the manifestation of God himself, God the Father (voice), the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit (dove). We hear God’s voice, stating how pleased he is with his son. “This is the manifestation (Epiphany) of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and son of God” (Catechism 536). His mission on earth begins.
Our baptism is the beginning of our public life as Catholic Christians. We receive grace by the power of the Holy Spirit through of the Rite of Baptism. We are, first, called by name, as a sign of God’s calling us forth from darkness. Holy water is poured upon us as we enter into the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We become a new creation of God, entering into the saving mystery of the death, life and resurrection of Jesus, and receive the power of the Holy Spirit, establishing freedom from original sin. Holy Chrism anoints us as priest, prophet and king in our new life in Christ in order to sacrifice, proclaim and serve. We are clothed in white, a sign of dignity of putting on Christ’s life. We receive a white candle, lit by the Paschal Candle, signifying the light of Christ, same as the light that shone on the night of Jesus’ birth, the light that will burn brightly within our hearts, enflamed our souls and lead others to Jesus.
May the light of Jesus Christ within us shine as bright as the star hovering over the Nativity, so that others will see the face of Christ in our radiant joy, knowing salvation is through him. May the peace of God fill us each and every day. Amen. Happy 2019!