Christmastide! For most of us this refers to that season when we celebrate the infancy of Jesus, and nothing more. How odd, then, that I read in my 'Prayer of the Church' that Christmastide ends with Evening Prayer II of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, an episode taken from the time when Jesus was a mature adult.
Even more baffling is it that the Church wants us to bear in mind on one single day, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, three distinct events in the life of Jesus -- one from his infancy, the other two from a time some thirty years later.
Thus in the Epiphany liturgy we have for Evening Prayer II Magnificat Antiphon:
Three wonders mark this day we celebrate; today the star led the Magi to the manger; today water was changed into wine at the marriage feast; today Christ desired to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.
What these three distinct events have in common is that they are wonderful epiphanies, or revelations, of the presence and activity of God in the person of Jesus. With my present theme being the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan I ask, 'What is God saying to us through this celebration? What kind of epiphany, what kind of revelation, is it?'
In the Second Reading of the Feast we find Peter explaining to Cornelius and his household,
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is, then, not only an epiphany or revelation of Jesus himself as he is affirmed by his Heavenly Father and by the Holy Spirit. It inaugurates a prolonged season of epiphany -- those years of the public ministry when every word and every gesture of Jesus was a revelation of God. The way Jesus handled each and every situation in which he found himself was an epiphany of what it meant for God to live out his life in our world as one of us.
The late Pope John Paul II chose to describe what took place during these few years as being luminous. And so when he proclaimed that the year 2003 should be observed as the Year of the Rosary, with the intention that through this much loved devotion we should 'contemplate with Mary the face of Christ,' he introduced us to five Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.
These focused on highly significant, or exceptionally luminous, episodes in the public life of Jesus -- a time which in its entirety and in its every detail is to be regarded as luminous. 'Each of these mysteries,' the Pope wrote 'is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.'
The Baptism in Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became 'sin' for our sake, the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son, while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out.
Far from Ordinary Time being dull or insignificant, as the name would seem to imply, it is an extended epiphany that is excitingly luminous for us. This was surely the most significant three years in the whole of human history. Throughout Ordinary Time Jesus will be making luminous our own very ordinary lives as we prayerfully enter into the events consequent upon that special event that was the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.