January 9: Baptism of the Lord. Readings: 1. Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Psalm: 29; 2. Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22.
For this Sunday and its feast, the biblical texts have a really distinctive focus. And that helps us better picture the initial phase of Jesus’ mission and ministry.
First of all, Isaiah voices words of comfort and consolation for Israel at a difficult time in their history. For him, this is his vocation, to proclaim a smooth path ahead. His view of the future is heartening, because in it the Lord God will make his presence a refreshing experience for his people. In saying these things, Isaiah wants to highlight the good news that is being announced afresh. Through Isaiah, God therefore assures Israel that he will take care of them and guide them into a new era.
The reading from Titus declares that the saving work of Jesus Christ stands at the centre of all that we profess. And it is because of such wondrous action that we should not hesitate to give the glory to Jesus as our saviour. The manner of these words from Titus therefore makes it clear that we are called to do two things. We are to honour both the merciful hand of God at work in the Church, and the work of the Holy Spirit that enlivens and empowers that Church.
The brevity of Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism by John takes the focus off the Baptist’s actions, and instead emphasises what happens afterwards. For that is when the Holy Spirit appears, and God’s voice affirms who Jesus is and what great things lie ahead. Jesus’ mission and ministry are therefore given a public and official stamp of approval.
With readings like these, today’s celebration takes on a different kind of emphasis. For Luke, the beginning of Jesus’ saving work plainly brings to fulfilment what the other two biblical authors proposed.