In today’s readings we find ourselves being drawn more deeply into relationship with Jesus. We are getting to know more about him as we see how he struggles with the news of his cousin John’s arrest. His first response is to withdraw, to leave Nazareth and go to Capernaum. There he is perhaps both consoled and challenged by the words of Isaiah that Matthew quotes: “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, / on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death / light has arisen” (Matthew 4:16). Jesus contemplates his cousin’s death, perhaps his own death, and he seeks the light. Maybe it is these words of Isaiah that move Jesus out of his withdrawal and into action. He begins to preach, teach, cure disease and illness, and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom.
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.