It’s very appropriate that we are celebrating a baptism today as part of our Liturgy of the Word because in the baptismal ceremony, as you well remember I’m sure, there is the part where the person being baptized is given a candle, lighted, and is exhorted to receive this candle as the light of Christ.
The Peace Pulpit
I think as we hear the Gospel today, we’re not surprised, in a way, that John objects to Jesus when Jesus comes to John for baptism -- because John has the idea that he had been sent to prepare the way for the one who was to come.
And he thought that he recognized in Jesus that special one, and so he wanted to say to Jesus: “No, I shouldn’t baptize you. You’re the one who is to come, the special, chosen one of God. You should baptize me.”
Once more these lessons that we hear as we approach the end of the Christmas season are lessons that bring home to us very powerfully the truth we proclaim in the Eucharistic prayer, the part where we say:
“Yes, God, you are holy, you are kind to us and to all. For this we thank you. We thank you above all for your son, Jesus. You sent him into this world because people had turned away from you and no longer loved one another. Jesus opened our eyes and our hearts to understand that we are brothers and sisters, and that you are the one God of us all.”
We begin today, the last and fourth week of the season of Advent, the season in which we look forward to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. As we have been preparing throughout this season, we now want to put special attention on what we are preparing for. The readings if we listen to them carefully tell us about something that is astounding and yet I think that in many ways we have come to take it for granted. In fact, we have let many other things distract us from this message, an astounding message from God that God is coming in to our midst, the eternal God, all powerful, all loving. This God is going to become part of human history. Breaking into our history, becoming part of us.
When I began to reflect on this Gospel lesson that we hear today, I immediately began to think of the first lesson in relationship to it. You can tell they’re very closely related.
When we hear this message today I hope that first of all and most of all we hear the words of John: "The reign of God is at hand."
This is what we will be celebrating when we celebrate the feast of Christmas. We remind ourselves and celebrate that the Son of God has come into human history and, from that point, the reign of God is ready to break forth in its fullness. It's at hand.
Editor's Note: Bishop Gumbleton is in Haiti this week with Johanna Berrigan, a member of the House of Grace Catholic Worker in Philadelphia, Penn. Instead of a homily, below is a letter the two sent describing their trip and the situation in the struggling nation.
The three lessons today seem to put forth a very discouraging or even dismal and perhaps frightening perspective or picture of what judgment, death, end of the world, that type of thing. But to truly understanding these readings, the passages from Malachi and the letter from Paul to the church in Thessalonica and the Gospel of Luke, we must consider the context in which each of them was written so we really can begin to understand what the writer is trying to bring forth for us.
This is one of those Sundays when, if we listen to the lessons very carefully, especially the first lesson in the gospel lesson, we will come to see how Jesus so clearly fulfills what had been revealed to people through God's chosen people in the Old Testament. In that first lesson, as I mentioned in introducing it, we discover someone who has a very profound insight into God. This person has come to know God very deeply and shares with us the kind of God that we worship: "Because you are Almighty, you are merciful to God."
Perhaps the most important words from today’s gospel are what Jesus says at the end of the lesson, after he tells the parable.
He says that one person went down to his house justified, not the other. If we understand the full implications of what it means to be justified, we perhaps will have a deeper understanding of what Jesus means by this parable.