09Jan 09 January 2022. The Baptism of the Lord

09 January 2022. The Baptism of the Lord

Theme: Jesus brings justice and divine life to the nations. As his baptised family, we seek the kingdom of God through justice and peace. [Two sets of readings are options to choose from. These below are from Year C.]

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

He will feed his flock like a shepherd

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Purified through the water of rebirth and renewal

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

The Baptist points to Jesus the Saviour, whom God calls “my Son, the Beloved”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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Alternative Readings:

1st Reading: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

A courageous servant of God will help others to keep the Covenant

Thus says the Lord:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

2nd Reading: Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38

After his baptism of Jesus went about doing good. Baptism sends us out to do good

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he 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.”

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Having a clear purpose in life

During a pilgrimages to the Holy Land I and some friends stood up to our knees in the river Jordan, to renew the promises of our baptism. It was a moving experience as we remembered the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus just after HIS baptism. By being baptised into him we are counted as members of God’s beloved family. United with Jesus, we are made like him, God’s own daughters and sons. Others who stood that day in the Jordan will remember that moment today and use it to renew their commitment to Jesus. But all of us were baptised somewhere, sometime, and we can claim that baptism fully as our own.

Our Lord’s baptism is a vital moment in our story of salvation, where he joined with humanity in the humble outreach to God, and where the Father and the Spirit are seen and heard to be there with him. Our gospel says that “the heavens were opened,”  a powerful statement of the point of contact between heaven and earth. Later on, as Jesus completes his life-journey on Calvary, we read how “the veil of the Temple was rent in two,” a symbol that we are not completely free to enter the Holy of Holies. Today’s gospel has Jesus beginning a journey which each of us is asked to travel. It is a journey full of purpose, a journey of intent. We need a sense of purpose and pattern to our living. St Peter summarised the purpose and pattern of Christ’s life when he said, “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” We are each invited, personally, to make this purpose our own.

A little story about finding direction: A Dubliner was down the country travelling along by-roads where the signposts were few and far between. After a while, unsure of his directions, he decided to ask the first person he saw. When he came across a farmer driving his cows home for milking he stopped the car and asked if he was on the right road to Mallow. The farmer told him that he certainly was on the Mallow road. The driver thanked him and was about to move forward when the farmer added, in a nonchalant way, “You’re on the right road, but you’re going in the wrong direction!’ Let’s look into our own lifestyle today, to see if our direction is right.


Celebrating Baptism

The sacrament I most like celebrating is the sacrament of baptism. It is always such a happy occasion when a child’s birth is publicly celebrated and cheered, and here they are received into a larger family, the family of the church. In being received into our church-family, these children become our brothers and sisters in the Lord, sons and daughters of God, and temples of the Spirit. The joy of faith and hope is palpable, especially when the parents and godparents come up to the baptismal font and the water is poured over the head of the child by the celebrant. Each child is anointed before and after baptism with special oil of catechumens and the oil of chrism; the baptismal shawl is placed around the child and the baptismal candle is lit. The whole occasion is uplifting in a way that is unique to that sacrament.

Of course, the majority of baptisms are of children, who are oblivious to what is happening around them. A big decision is being made on their behalf without their knowing anything about it. Yet, just as parents make all kinds of other big decisions for their children without consulting them, so they happily make this significant decision on their behalf. There is a story in the gospels of parents bringing little children to Jesus. When the disciples tried to stop parents doing this, Jesus rebuked his disciples and said to them, ‘let the children come to me and do not stop them, for to such as these the kingdom of God belongs.’ Parents continue to bring their children to Jesus today whenever they present them for baptism, because in baptism they are being baptized into the person of Christ; they become members of his body; Jesus begins to live within them through the Spirit. When parents bring their children for baptism they are making a decision for them that is very much in keeping with the Lord’s desire. ‘Let the children come to me and do not stop them.’

Today we celebrate the feast of the baptism of Jesus. It is a good day to reflect on our own baptism and its significance for us. The day of Jesus’ baptism was a watershed in his life; it was a day of new beginning. On that day he began his public ministry during which he gave himself fully in the service of God and all of God’s people. On that day Jesus launched forth as the one who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. As he set out on that momentous journey for all of us, he was assured of God his Father’s favour, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you’, and he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, who descended upon him like a dove.

Even though Jesus was baptised by John as an adult and we received Christian baptism as children, our baptism was also a day of new beginning for us. On that day we were launched on the great adventure of becoming disciples of Jesus in our own time. On that day, we too were given an assurance of God’s love and favour, and we too were empowered by the Holy Spirit for the journey ahead of us. On that day we were caught up into Jesus’ own very special relationship with God and we became a member of Jesus’ family of disciples, the church. It is a moment of grace that has the potential to shape our lives in a very fundamental way, in a way that is in keeping with God’s purpose for our lives.

In a sense we spend the rest of our lives trying to catch up with that day of new beginning. We are baptized as children but it is as adults that we confirm our baptism for ourselves. It is as adults that we say our own adult ‘yes’ to the Lord who said ‘yes’ to us as young children on the day of our baptism. It may be in our late twenties or our thirties or forties or even later that we come to say that ‘yes’ with all our heart and soul and mind. It is often in those mature years that we can hear the call of Isaiah in today’s First Reading, ‘O come to the water all you who are thirsty; Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.’ The Lord keeps calling out to us from the moment of our baptism, and as the Lord declares in that First Reading, ‘the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.’ Our response to the Lord’s call, the Lord’s word, can be slow in coming, but his call, his word, remains powerfully creative and will in some way or other make of us what God wants for us. [M Hogan]

Called for a mission

Seamus was a young man who couldn’t believe what he had just done. In the middle of the priest’s homily, he suddenly left his wife and children in the pew and walked out. He felt angry inside, so angry that he couldn’t sit still a minute longer. But he had no idea what his anger was about. Rather than embarrass his family further, he walked home from Mass on his own.

That afternoon he talked the matter over with his wife Sue, but neither of them could work out why he felt so angry. So he made an appointment with his priest for the following Tuesday night. Fr Smith suggested: ‘Tell me everything you remember about Sunday morning, starting with all you spoke to when you arrived at church, and everything you can remember about the Mass.’ Seamus outlined all the people he had spoken to, and what was said as best he could remember. But nothing stood out from the conversations which shed light on the source of his anger. He then made a summary of the flow of the Mass up till the gospel. He couldn’t remember which gospel had been read and what it was about.

It’s interesting,’ Fr Smith said, ‘how you remember well the first two readings, but haven’t got a clue about the gospel. So, let me remind you.’ The priest pulled a missal down from the shelf and read the gospel. As Seamus heard the familiar words about John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus, he became aware that he did remember hearing them on Sunday, but it was not till Fr Smith came to the last words of the text that he knew what his anger was about:

And a voice spoke from heaven,
‘You are my Son, the one whom I love;
I am very pleased with you.’

‘That’s what I always wanted to hear from my father,’ Seamus said bitterly, ‘and now it’s too late, because he’s dead.’ Tears came to his eyes as he let himself feel for the first time the deep hurt he had been carrying for far too long. ‘Perhaps there is something you can do about it,’ Fr Smith replied. ‘Let’s pretend that your dad is sitting right here in this chair.’ He pulled an empty chair over and placed it in front of Seamus. ‘Tell him how you feel. Don’t leave anything out.’

Seamus stumbled over his words at first, but after a few moments he spoke passionately, pouring out everything he wanted to say to his father. When he was finished, Fr Smith looked at him and said, ‘What do you think your father would say to all that?’ John thought for a minute and then he replied: I think he would say what he used to say when I was upset and afraid as a child. He would pick me up, give me a big bear hug, and say: “Seamus, I love you. There’s nothing to worry about. That’s my boy”. When he left Fr Smith’s office, he felt that a heavy load had dropped from his shoulders. For the first time since his father died, he felt at peace.

There are times in our lives when we need our parents, or some significant other to re-assure and encourage us, someone to tell us who we are, why we matter, and why they have high hopes for us. The time came in the life of Jesus when he too needed re-assurance and encouragement to find a new direction in his life. It happened at his baptism by John in the Jordan River. What happened is cast in dramatic language. From the open heavens the comforting and empowering Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove. A voice from heaven spoke: ‘You are my Son the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

It’s after this experience of hearing God speaking to him on the banks of the Jordan River, that Jesus understands that the time has come for him to begin his work on earth as God’s Son and Servant. The words of the prophet Isaiah, heard in the First Reading, come to Jesus. “’Console my people, console them,’ says your God.” It’s as though Jesus has just heard God the Father say to him: ‘I have chosen you for this mission of Good Shepherd. Go to my people. Tell them that I love them. Show them that I love them. Gather them together and bring them back to me.’ Now that he knew what was expected of him there would be no holding back. As we heard in our Second Reading: ‘He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people … who would have no ambition except to do good.’ That’s why he laid down his life for others to his very last breath and his last drop of blood.
We too, all of us, are dearly and deeply loved by God. He is our Father too. We are his sons and daughters, made so by our baptism. We are also sisters and brothers of Jesus. We have been joined to his person at our baptism and sent out on the very same mission as Jesus – to show and tell people everywhere just how much God loves them. Can we re-open our hearts to God as persons called and sent, as people on a mission? Can we hear him saying to us those words spoken to Jesus: ‘I have chosen you for this mission. Go to my people. Tell them that I love them. Show them that I love them. Bring them back to me?’

Brian Gleeson

 

Dearbhú ár mBaiste

Is nasc saoil é an Bhaisteadh. Gabhann an dualgas atá orainn an chuid eile dár saoil a d’iarraidh ár ndualgaisí in a leith a chomhlíonadh Nuair a bhainimid amach aois na céile is ansan a thugaimid ár lán toil don Tiarna, a sheas linn ó thús. Is minic go mbíonn fiche bliain caite sula a dtugtaimid an comhaontú iomlán, lán-toilteanach seo. I mblianta na maitheasa is mó go mór a théann ráiteas Isiaia, atá in a chuid de léacht an Aifrinn inniu, i bhfeidhm orainn “Hóigh, a lucht an íota, tagaigí faoi choinne uisce, Lorgaígí an Tiarna fad a chuireann Sé é féin ar fáil, glaoigí air fad atá Sé i ngar”. Bíonn an Tiarna dár dtreorú gan staonadh ón mbaiste, agus mar atá ráite sa Scrioptúir ” an Briathar a théann as mo bhéal, ní fhilleann san orm gan toradh, gan an rud ab áil liom a dhéanamh agus mo bheart a chur i gcrích”. Dála Íosa Críost tugamis cluas le héisteacht do ghairm an bhaisteadh.
(Aistrithe ag an tAth. Uinseann, OCSO)

3 Responses

  1. Kevin Walters

    9 Jan – Baptism of Our Lord…

    “Go to my people. Tell them that I love them. Show them that I love them. Gather them together and bring them back to me.’

    In the past and probably so today many Catholics move away from the Church as they commence their working life, never having truly committed themselves to the faith, they drift along. The Church is universal many baptized Catholics (Cultural) know little of their religion, but a process/path has commenced that encompasses Hope, and for this reason, I believe that any child presented for baptism should be baptized no matter what the circumstances of their parents/guardians as it confers on the child, led by the Holy Spirit, an acknowledgeable recognition of given grace (Calling), within their own heart later in life, no matter how broken that life may be.

    I believe this stirring of the heart often occurs in life’s confounding moments of significance as in death/birth/loss, etc. But sadly, this stirring (Hope) is stifled almost immediately, as they are often entangled within a sinful situation (Mortal Sin). While understanding that God’s Divine Mercy cannot be codified. As
    “a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise”.

    So what is more beautiful than an open honest embrace/acknowledgment of one’s own failings before God and the faithful as this is beauty in action and it is called humility, which is ‘immediately’ recognized/’reflected’ within the hearts of young and old alike.

    So can the Church under Pope Francis and his Bishops embrace humility and reflect this recognizable innate instinct within the hearts of mankind which has been given by God to all and in doing so reclaim the laity/faithful in giving the Church relevance that is based on Truth in the world today?

    The proclaiming of The Word (Words without action are just a distraction) is not enough, the laity/faithful must see the true intent (that defines the action) within the hearts of those who lead us. While ever the true Divine Mercy Image is kept hidden away, we clearly see the truth (Intent) of the present situation which can be summed up in these words:
    ‘We lead we do as we please, we just appease’.

    The Church has been given the means by Our Lord Himself via the true DM Image one of Broken Man the means to immediately shift the culture of Clericalism globally in a way that cannot be misunderstood by mankind while at the same time creating a genuine atmosphere of sorrow for the culture of cover-up within the whole church.
    While this image would remain as a visual reminder to All to serve the Truth first before any institution or individual man/woman as only an honest church, one seen to be based on humility, can recapture the hearts of mankind especially in the West today.

    A Church for the poor is not enough (although good in itself) as it sidesteps the full spectrum of Truth which confronts evil on both the spiritual plain and worldly plain.

    And this is what I am advocating, Humility (Truth) as the basis for cohesion and inclusivity within the Church. Creating a Church (Field Hospital) that is truly universal where no one (Baptised Christian) is barred from partaking of the bread of life especially those who cannot receive absolution who by openly (Publicly) acknowledge (Confesses) their need for God’s Divine Mercy just prior to receiving the Bread of Life should not be turned away. This would ensure spiritual growth for all her children no matter in what state, place, or time that she encounters them at the crossroads (difficulties) of life.

    So yes, absolutely! “Go to my people. Tell them that I love them. Show them that I love them. Gather them together and bring them back to me.’

    Please consider continuing Via the link
    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/09/16/final-volume-of-commentary-of-gospel-of-matthew-focuses-on-liturgy-eucharist/#comment-279268

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Thara Benedicta

    Readings: The Baptism of Our Lord

    Key Message:
    Whenever we just love God, our Almighty Father says, “This is my beloved son/daughter, I am pleased with you”!!

    Homily:

    The Takeaway from the First Reading:
    We have been through both “mountain top” and “valleys” (difficult times) in our lives. We all have walked through crooked paths, where we did not know where our life was actually taking us, we did not know what to do, and nothing had worked out according to our plan and so on. We have all been through uneven ups and downs and rough terrains.
    In those moments, how has God helped out? Can we remember His marvellous works and thank Him for bringing us out of challenges?
    We also encounter situations where our own weakness becomes our challenge. Sometimes we feel that we do not require challenges from other people to contribute to our frustration, our weaknesses are sufficient enough to give us frustration. We increase our frustration by trying to compensate for our weakness, and also by hiding it from others visibility. God knows our weakness very well and He will work on it. It is actually an opportunity for God to work on our weaknesses. Let us admit our weakness and say to our Lord Jesus, “Lord Jesus I am getting frustrated by overcoming this weakness of mine. Teach me how to overcome it.” We can listen to the little promptings of our Holy Spirit and overcome it. I had a big weakness of thinking ‘high’ about myself. I would not want to think like that, but still, I would continue with that thinking. I prayed to God, please help me to come out of this thinking process. I could hear the little voice saying, ‘Say, “Thank you, Jesus”’. It worked!!
    God is not surprised by our weakness, He still loves us!!

    The Takeaway from the Second Reading:
    God’s love is unconditional. God also wants us to lead a life with self-control and He wants us to be zealous for good deeds. As said in this second reading, He is training us to live our life with self-control, in a Godly way. God will train us to live a fruitful life. When we undergo this training, we should accommodate the changes within us. God will train us until we come out with flying colours. So it is better to immediately mend ourselves and go in Godly ways. When we accommodate the changes that God is bringing in us, then we can pass to the next grade and we will be more fruitful. If we keep a rebellious attitude then we need to take up the same tests (examinations) again and again, and we need to be in the same place.
    God our Father trains us to walk in Godly ways!!

    The Takeaway from the Gospel Reading:
    God our Father said to our loving Lord Jesus during His Baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased”.
    Our Lord Jesus had yet to start His ministry at this point in time. He had yet to preach the Good news, cure the sick, and forgive the sins. Yet God our Father told Him, “I am well pleased”.
    God our Father encourages His Son Jesus as He sets up for His ministry.
    During the transfiguration, as preparation for the great suffering, God our Father encourages His Son, “He is My Beloved Son”.
    We always see “God” as an encouraging Father to His Son Jesus Christ. He knows when His Son will need it most and encourages Him saying, “You are my Beloved, I am very happy with you”.

    God is always an encouraging Father to all of us. That is why in the whole Bible we see always the same message repeatedly, “I am there to take care of you. Do not worry”. The Holy Bible says “when God is there, why worry?”.

    People often question, “If God is there, then why am I suffering?”
    The life of our Saviour is an answer to this question. God who often repeated that He is well pleased with His Son Jesus, did not plan out an easy life for His Son. Our Lord Jesus suffered from His crib to the cross. Because of being the Mother of God, Mamma Mary also had to undergo similar suffering. When God our Father said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.”, He did not mean to shower a path of roses for His Only Son. He encouraged Him in His hard work. During the transfiguration, God our Father strengthened His Son Jesus to undergo a terrible agony of the cross and the crucifixion.
    As followers of our Lord Jesus, we are not built for the easy way of life but for withstanding all the hard trials.

    God our Father has anointed us with Holy Spirit to follow His steps in any fierce storm, just like our Lord Jesus!!

    Tips for us to do the Takeaways:

    1. God our Loving Father is the perfect model for all parents and teachers. When His Son Jesus encountered a new battlefield, God our loving Father encouraged him. He does not frighten Jesus saying that the task is too big, you need to be careful. But in encouraging words God our Father says “You are my Beloved Son. I am pleased with you”. These can be the encouraging words of all parents, teachers and guardians to prepare their own people for a tough period in life.

    2. God does not require us to do big things but small things with great love. God our Father loved His Jesus when He was doing just little things also, e.g., when Jesus would have been doing nothing but the household chores, helping His Mom, making tables and chairs when He had not yet started His spiritual ministry also. God our Father said that He was well pleased with Jesus. Hence, if we are a homemaker or a carpenter or a janitor – whatever our occupation, we are precious to God. Just our heart full of love is necessary to please Him.

    3. If we are living among non-believers, especially in a country where Christians are a minority, then our lives should radiate the life of our Lord Jesus in the presence of non-believers. Non-believers may not take the Holy Bible and read. But they can immediately spot the beautiful life we lead in front of them. As St.Francis of Assisi exclaimed, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words”, our lives are powerful preachers of the Gospel. I got to know the words of a mother who was worried about her son’s sudden marriage. “At least if he had married a Christian girl, I would have been happy…” This shows that she is already moved by the good life of Christians living around her.

    4. The Apostle Paul says that we should be zealous for good deeds. We should not perform good deeds with sad hearts. We are not here to spend our lives discouraged and depressed. If Jesus was depressed and discouraged as He was preaching the Gospel, not even one person would have approached Him. He preached with great zeal and enthusiasm. People from everywhere flocked to Him. For three days and nights, people forgot to drink, eat and sleep and they were just listening to His powerful preaching. He never fretted nor complained that He had to work that hard.

    5. When the whole world rejects us also, God is with us. He has engraved our names in the palm of His hand during our Baptism (Isaiah 49:16). Whatever may be the situation let us not do the deep worrying part. Let us remember that God will do the needful to bring us out of the problem in His own time. God is sufficient for us!!

    God recognises our weakness, even before we recognise it. Let us feel encouraged that He loves us in spite of it!!

  3. Joe O'Leary

    The Baptist’s Message of Comfort

    We think of John the Baptist as a scold and a terror, but his voice is more deeply that of a comforter, of one who consoles, encourages, and strengthens. ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says the Lord. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…’ He discomforts the comfortable, to be sure, Herod in his decadence and those he calls a ‘brood of vipers’; but he comforts the uncomfortable, such as we are, distressed by the confusion of the church and the world, shamed by our failures, anxious about futurity, our own and the planet’s.

    Christmas ended with a still moment of contemplation, the Magi bending at the crib. Now the church moves on, turning aside from sweet wonder at past events to stirring embrace of the future. John’s voice erupts like an alarm clock. ‘Time to get up! Time to get started! Time for a new beginning!’ The sound of an alarm clock is usually greeted with a groan, but it is the voice of life itself, gifting us with another day full of promise.

    Tomorrow in Japan is Seijin no hi, adults’ day, when those who have reached the age of 21 joyfully step forth on the stage of their adult career. But what about those in their twilight years? What have they to celebrate? The young have endless time before them and endless energy to expend. But what time have the old left? And what energy in their creaking bones? To which the Baptist says: ‘No, the message is for you too. Make straight in the desert of old age a highway for our God!’ ‘Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint’ (Is 40:30-31). There are no twilight years in the Lord’s calendar, but only perpetual dawn, as Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna discovered to their surprise.

    ‘But I have so little time left. What can I do?’ Reflect how little time Jesus had. The scholars say his public ministry lasted only one year, not three. Is this not one of the miracles of our faith, that a year’s teaching, brutally cut short, has resounded throughout the whole world ever since? ‘The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand forever’ (Is 40:8). The word can resound also in our frailty, and our few days can bear resonant witness to it.

    ‘But I have no energy to change the world, and indeed no ambition to attempt it. What troublesome demands is this noisy prophet making? Let him take his unrealistic expectations elsewhere.’ Well, St Luke, who may be writing quite late in the story of early Christianity, when many were disillusioned and weary, addresses this mood. He has the people ask John ‘What shall we do then?’ (Lk 3:10) and John provides a string of very practical, prosaic instructions. Together with the whole community we can change the world. As individuals we are not asked to do so. Enough if we use wisely our one talent (how cumbersome it would be to have ten!), enough if we add to the store of those ‘little, nameless, unremembered, acts/ Of kindness and of love’ (Wordsworth, ‘Tintern Abbbey’). Every contribution, however humble, or especially if humble, counts in the great work of the people of God building up his Kingdom; remember the widow’s two mites (Mk 12:41-4; Lk 21:1-4).

    The prophets are energizing voices and we cannot do without them. Let’s not be afraid of their challenges and wake-up calls. But there is of course a more wonderful comfort, to awaken and console and encourage and strengthen, and the shy little letter to Titus has its moment of glory as it voices it: ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all’ (cf. ‘all flesh shall see it together,’ Is 40:5); ‘When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.’ Rebirth and renewal! Offered us here and now, freely, no matter what our moral and physical condition. As we humbly plough our little furrow, let’s remember the Lord of the harvest, and his constant care for us. ‘He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable’ (Is 40:28). ‘He will feed his flock like a shepherd… and gently lead those that are with young’ (40:11). Let’s not think we are condemned to some desperate lonely effort. Athletes after some great performance sometimes say, ‘I felt I was pushed, lifted by a force beyond me.’ Let us let ourselves be pushed, lifted, carried. Let the Lord do his good and gracious work in us. Let him ‘purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds’ (Titus 2:14), just such a people as the Baptist’s powerful voice summons into being.

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