(Readings from Year C.  Readings for this Sunday are from the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year C; Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11.  St. Paul’s Letter to Titus, 2:11-14, and 3:4-7. Gospel, St. Luke 3:15-16, 21-22. )

The Christmas tree has been taken down, the decorations are all put away, children are back at school again, and life returns to a wonderful normal again.

Or maybe, it’s not such a wonderful ‘normal’ at all: the civil war in Syria that has killed over 60,000 people by now: the gang-rape and death of that young Indian woman in Delhi. The tragic death of climber Ian McKeever on Kilimanjaro, with the lightening strike.  Deaths at our own door steps, from murder, or from house fires. Violent protests in the North of Ireland, over the Union flag. Life goes on.

And where does this feast, this celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, fit in to all of our lives today? Is there some hope, there? And what about Isaiah, and the Lord’s words ‘Console my people, console them’ says the Lord. (First Reading, today). There’s joy, there’s deliverance coming for them,-shout out without fear ‘Here is your God!’, from the mountain-tops. He will come and be like a shepherd, gathering lambs in his arms, leading the mother ewes to their rest. It’s a great passage at the start of the Second Book of Isaiah (Chapter 40, of Isaiah), when the people were almost without hope.  The Jewish people were captives in Bablyon (Iraq today) from about 582- 538 BC. The prophet tells them that their exile is nearly over, they will be going home and the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. These events were hugely significant for the Jewish people, and they did return home and the temple was rebuilt. ‘Console my people, console them!’  A wonderful reading to steep ourselves in, from the start of Chapter 40 of Isaiah. It’s uplifting.

And Paul speaks, in the Second Reading (Titus 2:11-14, and 3:4-7) about what the Lord has done for the whole human race,- bringing us home again ‘when the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed’,- all because the Lord wanted to do so, and not because of any good behaviours by us. A free gift to the Beloved!

And then, the Baptism of Jesus,- a moment of revelation when Jesus is revealed, and he experiences in all his humanity that he is indeed ‘My Son, the Beloved, on whom my favour rests’.  He is filled with the Holy Spirit to brimming point, he is ‘steeped’ in the heart of God, in the love of God for all humankind. He has that great moment of awareness that he is loved, and that he has a mission to accomplish in the world, for the whole world.

This Jesus of Nazareth- he is God’s Son, God’s Beloved. He is the Anointed One, or ‘The Christ’ of God.

And John said that ‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire’;   Jesus will, if we welcome him and recognise him as the One Sent by God. Our hearts will become filled with the Holy Spirit, and there will be fire in our bellies,- with love for life and people and creation and the Creator. With the Holy Spirit, there will be fire-works of a different kind.

So, to bring all of this into the present, into the ‘Life goes on as normal’ scene. How families and society would  be changed if people did have this Spirit of God in them that Jesus will baptize them in, if they follow him! A people on fire, a people caring, thoughtful, resourceful, enthusiastic for the world around us. That’s why Jesus wants to baptize us, to steep us, to ‘marinate’ us, in the very same Spirit that was in himself.

The late Fr. Jack McArdle told of an elderly nun who came up to him once after a talk on the Holy Spirit, and said to him: ‘You know what you were just talking about, in there? Well, I want it ALL, and I want it NOW!’

Just be in prayer, quietly, in your day to day life, with a hunger for the Promise of God, and the moment will come, in God’s time, when you will experience this ‘baptism’ in your life. It’s a promise that John made, for our generation too. It’s what Jesus does.

Fr. Seamus Devitt C.Ss.R.

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