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This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Since Jesus’ Baptism took place when he was an adult, it may seem odd to celebrate his baptism so soon after we have celebrated his birth. The fact is, though, that other than the various infancy narratives and the story of the finding of Jesus in the temple, there are no stories of Jesus’ years before his Baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. When you stop and think about it, however, there is a certain “rightness” to this. While it would be interesting to know about Jesus’ life before he began his public ministry, his mission and his ministry are far more important to us because they brought about our salvation.
Our Gospel this weekend is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Baptism. Matthew is the only evangelist to include the verse that tells us that when Jesus came to John for Baptism, “John tried to prevent him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me.” Most scripture scholars agree that John didn’t want to baptize Jesus because he did not see Jesus as a sinner in need of Baptism. And while we believe that Jesus was without sin, we also believe that his baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry. (As Christians, it is our belief that Baptism takes away original sin. We also believe, though, that Baptism begins our life in Christ, and as importantly that it empowers us to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus.) We are told that after Jesus was baptized, a voice came from the heavens saying, ‘"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We believe that the Spirit is also given to us at our Baptism, and that we are all beloved children of God.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is taken from the section of Isaiah known as the “Servant Songs.” The servant is the chosen one of the Lord, and the song describes the characteristics and mission of the servant. We see the “servant songs” as prefiguring Jesus. In the section for this weekend we read: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit;”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. In it Peter describes the mission of Jesus and reminds us that “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- We believe that the Holy Spirit is given to all the baptized. What is the Holy Spirit empowering you to do?
- If it is true that God shows no partiality, why bother with Baptism?
- Do you see yourself as a Beloved Son or Daughter of God?
Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6 Ephesians 3: 2-3a; 5-6 Matthew 2: 1-12
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The word epiphany means a revelation or manifestation. Today’s Feast celebrates the manifestation/revelation of Christ to the world. This manifestation is represented by the visit of the magi (The magi were foreigners, not Jews.) from the East to the newborn Christ child. In our Gospel this weekend, we are told that these foreign visitors said: “we saw his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” King Herod, though, “called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said ‘Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’” Once the magi found the child, “they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod they departed for their country by another way.”
This story is both well known and important. Through the centuries, however, details have been added to it that were not part of the original. Thus, if you read the text carefully, you will note that the magi are never identified as males or as “kings,” and their number is never specified (We presume there were three because there were three gifts.) Additionally, the three “kings” we sing of comes from verbal tradition and not from the scriptures.
Despite the discrepancies between the text of this Gospel and the details that have accrued to it over the centuries, its message is summed up in our second reading today from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians: “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is the section that Christians believe contains the prophecy of the visit of the magi. “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Does knowing that details have been added to this Gospel change its meaning for you?
- If Jesus is the savior of all people for all time, why do some people want to limit the offer of salvation to a select few?
- Has there been a time when you have experience an “epiphany” of God in your life?
Readings: Sirach 3: 2-6; 12-14 Colossians 3: 12-17 Matthew 2: 13-15; 19-23
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This celebration reminds us that Jesus Christ was born into the human family of Mary and Joseph. Interestingly, while the Holy Family has always been venerated, this feast didn’t become part of our liturgical calendar until 1921. It encourages us to see the Holy Family as a model for all Christian families.
In our three year cycle of Sunday readings, we are in the “A” cycle, which means our Gospel readings for this year will come primarily from the Gospel of Matthew. In our Gospel this weekend, we read that “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.’” Joseph did as he was told and the Holy Family stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod. After Herod had died, an angel once again appeared in a dream to Joseph and told him: “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.” Joseph again did as he was told and “he departed for the region of Galilee. He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth.”
Joseph’s openness to God’s will, his dedication to and love for Mary and Jesus, and his steadfastness in faith are really a model for all believers. Additionally, they are virtues that should be manifested in all families.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Sirach. This book primarily offers advice on family life. The opening sentence is an example of this. “God sets a father in honor over his children, a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.”
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians. In the section we read this weekend Paul reminds us how we are to live as disciples of Jesus: “Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another………………...”
Questions for Discussion/Reflection:
- Joseph was open to God’s will and work in his life. How do we come to know and then remain open to God’s will?
- I don’t think Joseph always had clarity in regard to why/where God was leading him, yet he remained steadfast in faith. How do we remain steadfast in faith?
- How do we “put on” the virtues Paul mentioned in our second reading today?
Readings: Isaiah 7: 10-14 Romans 1: 1-7 Matthew 1: 18-24
With just a few days before Christmas, our Gospel reading for this fourth Sunday of Advent tells us “how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” Although Mary and Joseph were betrothed, they were not yet married, and yet we are told that Mary was “found with child though the Holy Spirit.” Joseph, who at this point did not know that Mary had conceived through the Holy Spirit, decided to divorce Mary quietly. “Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her ……………… When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
Because this Gospel is so familiar, it would be easy to fail to appreciate its message. Not only does it remind us of our belief that Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God, but also it reminds us that having faith doesn’t mean that we will always understand God’s will and work, or that our faith will provide the answers to our questions. Certainly this was the case with Joseph.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. From our Christian perspective, it contains a prophecy of Christ’s birth. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
Our second reading this weekend is the opening verses of the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. Paul begins this letter by identifying himself and his mission. “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness……………….”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. I think Joseph is a model of faith in that without understanding he believed. Have you ever not understood and yet believed?
2. Joseph came to know God’s will through a dream. How else might you come to know God’s will?
3. Paul identified himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. With the connotations that the word “slave” has, I feel a bit uncomfortable with this. What about you?