The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord

10th January 2016

The chosen first reading is from the beginning of Isaiah chapter 40.  In the 6th century BC the angels are called on by God to comfort and console the people in exile; they have suffered enough for their sins against God.  But it is a prophet whose voice delivers the message to the people; they will cross the desert from Babylon back to their homeland; it is also a spiritual journey through many dry times – the desert – overcoming emotional ups and downs – mountains and valleys; but in the end there will be the glorious vision of God for the whole world to see – they have God’s word on it.  Then God will be seen both as a victorious conqueror and the tender shepherd that He is.  The words used in Handel’s Messiah include many of the verses used in our reading today; his music portrays the emotion of this great prophecy.  In the Book of Isaiah this prophecy introduces a whole collection of literature dealing with the people’s yearning for their homeland; a collection referred to as Deutero-Isaiah, to distinguish it from the earlier prophecies of the 8th century BC of the actual prophet named Isaiah.  It was about 600 years ago that probably the first woman to publish a book died; she had suffered from the plague which had killed many and caused chaos and depression in that area; when she was being anointed she had a vision regarding sin and disaster as the forerunner of joy and comfort from God; on writing about her insight she used the words that echo today’s reading, “all will be well, all manner of things will be well;” she is known as Julian of Norwich.

The second chosen reading is selections from Paul’s letter to Titus.  This letter together with the two addressed to Timothy are collectively called the Pastoral Epistles, because they are written to helpers of Paul who have pastoral duties with regard to established early Christian churches.  Titus, we know from other genuine letters of Paul, was a young companion of his who became a follower of Christ from paganism and who was an example of the needlessness of being Jewish or circumcised in order to be a Christian.  Titus had done some delicate negotiations for Paul regarding difficulties in the church at Corinth, but in this letter, he is to go with pastoral concern for the church in Crete –  a people noted for their lying and troublesomeness.  Our passage is about central Christian doctrines and the gradual growth in holiness of Christians in preparation for the final glory; God has saved us not because we deserve it but solely because of His mercy – a word that in the Greek original is the noun from the second word of kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) which we use during Mass.

The gospel is part of Luke’s account of the launch of Jesus’ public ministry (see here) with his baptism by John and the proclamation of him both by John and a voice from heaven.  The Baptist is reported as saying that Jesus is more powerful than he, and that his baptism will be with the Spirit and fire – something from God and that purifies the individual.  This is similar to the treatment of John in all of the gospels, but whereas in Luke the Holy Spirit is said to be in the form of a dove, in the others the Spirit comes down as doves do (perhaps reminiscent of the hovering of the Spirit over the waters in the creation poem in Genesis 1:2).

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