With this Sunday we begin Ordinary Time. The readings tell us about God’s relationship with Israel and John the Baptist’s relationship with Jesus. Israel’s relationship with God is so close, so intimate, that it is through Israel that God’s “salvation [will] reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). But we know from John the Baptist that for Israel to accomplish God’s will, it must also recognize that Jesus is the Son of God. During these weeks we also get to know Jesus. We begin to understand more deeply our relationship to Jesus and what that relationship means for us, who are “called to be holy” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
This Sunday’s celebration of the Baptism of the Lord closes the Christmas season. In the scriptures we see one more epiphany, or manifestation, of the Spirit of God in Jesus—but this time it is as an adult, rather than as a child. Jesus’ baptism also serves as the inauguration of his prophetic mission and the messianic age.
Today’s reading from Isaiah describes God’s chosen Messiah, upon whom God’s spirit rests. In the Acts of the Apostles Peter says that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). Finally, in the proclamation from Matthew’s Gospel Jesus’ baptism in water goes almost unnoticed. The crucial moment comes when the Spirit of God comes upon Jesus and a voice from heaven echoes the words of Isaiah: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Epiphany can be understood as an extension of the Nativity of the Lord that we celebrate on December 25. While at Christmas we celebrate Jesus' coming as the long-awaited king and Messiah of the Jewish people, on Epiphany we celebrate the revelation that Jesus is the Savior and Light of all nations—Jews, Gentiles, and all people.
The star shines so brightly that it attracts magi who come from far distant countries to worship Jesus. They are not Jews, yet they are drawn to the Light of the world. The letter to the Ephesians reveals that the Light of the world was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews—Christ gathers all people into the light of his love. The reading from Isaiah also describes a gathering of diverse peoples, but this time it is to the light that emanates from the people of God.
This Sunday is the feast of the Holy Family, which comes on the first Sunday after Christmas Day. Today’s feast celebrates how the humanity of Jesus (including his entire family life) has brought saving significance into the daily rhythms of our human family life.
The scriptures offer instruction and encouragement on how to share—within our families, parish families, and the wider human family— the love that God shares with us in Jesus. Selections from Sirach, Psalm 128, and Colossians encourage us to reflect divine love and thus find holiness in all our human relationships. The reading from Matthew’s Gospel offers a living example of love in the actions Joseph took to protect his young family from danger and to nurture them within the larger family of faith of their time.
On this final Sunday of Advent our scriptures focus on the historical birth of Jesus, who is son of David and Son of God, child and king, Jesus and Emmanuel.
Isaiah the prophet begs Ahaz to ask for a sign, to allow God to offer him reassurance of the survival of the Davidic dynasty. The king hypocritically refuses to “tempt the LORD” in that way (Isaiah 7:12), but the prophet foretells the birth of a son, an heir to the throne, who will prove the Lord’s enduring protection of God’s chosen lineage on the throne of David. The child will be called Emmanuel.
Matthew’s reference to this history in his description of the birth of Jesus highlights the contrast between the faithless refusal of trust shown by Ahaz, and the complete trust in God shown by Mary and Joseph in bringing about the birth of Jesus Christ.
Dark violet is used throughout Advent to express its character as a season of spiritual preparation for Christmas and “the coming of the Lord.” But on the Third Sunday of Advent, formerly known as Gaudete (Latin for “rejoice”) Sunday, rose may be added to the liturgical environment. The entire liturgy is infused with a spirit of rejoicing.
Today’s first reading and Gospel proclaim the reality of God’s saving work in our midst. Isaiah exuberantly describes the idyllic transformation of all creation as a result of God’s presence in the midst of the people. In the Gospel, Jesus connects Isaiah’s prophecy with what is happening in his own ministry. In addition to the list of healings from Isaiah (the blind, the lame, lepers, and the deaf), Jesus’ presence brings two other reasons for rejoicing: “The dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Matthew 11:5).
As the Sundays of Advent unfold the scriptures shift focus from the final coming of the Lord to his historical birth. Today’s scriptures blend the two. Isaiah’s disillusionment with the kings of his own day led him to envision an ideal king who would rule with divine approval and be led by divine wisdom. For centuries the Jewish people anticipated the arrival of that Messiah, who would usher in a blessed age when the whole world would finally dwell in justice and peace.
After centuries of such growing expectation, the preaching of John the Baptist about the imminent arrival of the Messiah could not help but provoke intense interest. The Baptist’s message about preparation for “the one who is coming” (Matthew 3:11) makes clear that Jesus is, in fact, the long-awaited one who is ushering in the new age foretold by Isaiah and all the prophets.
Our liturgical year begins with the season of Advent—a time of hopeful expectation of the coming of the Lord. On the First Sunday of Advent we look forward to the end of time when we will awaken to the dawn of Christ’s new day.
Today we hear Isaiah speak of a day when God’s power will have brought universal peace and God’s Word will have instructed all people, radiating God’s “light” (teachings) into all of human society. Only when humanity walks “in the light of the Lඈඋൽ” (Isaiah 2:5), when all people desire to be instructed “in [God’s] ways” (Isaiah 2:3), will the world be set aright and our deepest longings fulfilled. The reading from Romans calls us to “awake from sleep” for this final “day is at hand” (Romans 13:11, 12). Together this Sunday’s scriptures proclaim our Christian faith that Jesus is the One who will finally come to fulfill God’s plan of salvation.