Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7 Acts 10:34-38 Matthew 3: 13-17
As we begin a new year, we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Jesus as a helpful reminder and a commitment of renewal. As we contemplate Jesus’s baptism, we see it as the foundation of his public ministry and the launching of it. It needs to serve also as a reminder that most of us have a similar foundational experience and call.
Most of us can recall moments in our lives when we were touched by God and given a sense of being special and loved. Whatever form that experience or those experiences took at the time, we need to return to them often – not just to remember them but to let ourselves relive them. They are the blessed foundation that can give purpose, courage, and direction to our lives. Knowing ourselves to be loved stirs our own love in response, and, as St. John teaches, love drives out fear.
The call or invitation of God to those God loves could not be more clearly expressed than in the servant song we hear from Isaiah in today’s liturgy. The mission given is a mission to bring about justice in the world and to do it gently, not shouting or forcing people. It is a mission to open the eyes of people who don’t see the ways of God’s love, to give oneself as a covenant, an embodiment of God’s love.
Committing ourselves to work to bring about God’s vision of justice can be overwhelming in these times. Violence dominates too many of our streets and homes, too many regions and nations. Hatreds, racism, sexism, trafficking/slavery, and abuse of all kinds have reemerged to divide us sharply and traumatize millions. Disregard of truth undermines trust and relationships. Climate change seems out of control and scientists are warning us that unimaginably destructive tipping points are not too far in the future. Immigration and refugee crises continue to grow and show no signs of resolution. Economic inequality is unsustainable nationally and globally.
When it all piles up like that in our consciousness, we need to go back to the foundational love of God for us. That is who we are and it is our security. Then we must remember that it is the work of the Holy Spirit of God to engage all the injustice and need. And the Spirit can do more than we can imagine and take us to places we didn’t know possible or even allowable. The reading from Acts about Peter and Cornelius’s household is one reminder of how the Spirit took the early Jewish Christian reform movement out of Judaism, to the Gentiles, and eventually around the whole planet.
The Holy Spirit is already at work addressing all the injustices, working to bring forth in our world today the justice Isaiah describes. Our first responsibility is to have our eyes and hearts alert to notice where the Spirit is at work and spread the Good News that that is. Celebrating the Good News builds it up and spreads it.
And sometimes we will see places where that justice is needed and possible. We are certainly called to be co-creators of that justice where we can. The Spirit doesn’t ask any of us to do everything, but we need to stay attentive to the small inspirations, nagging concerns and discomfort that we experience. They may well be nudges from the Spirit asking our cooperation.
But above all as we enter this new year, confronted by many serious challenges and much that is unknown, it is important that we stay grounded in the experience and truth of God’s relationship with each of us. Recall and relive hearing: “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.