Sunday, January 09, 2022

It's Been A Long Day...

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (C)

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 103 (104): 1-4, 24-25, 27-30; Titus 2:11-14,3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Picture: cc Jay Hsu

My dear friends, do you ever feel like you really need a hug? What’s it like? Two days ago, this scene from a TV series caught my attention. A kindly proprietor of a bed-and-breakfast looks closely at a newly arrived guest, and tells him that he looks like he could really use a hug. True enough, soon after she gathers him into her arms, he starts to cry. Sorry, he says, embarrassed, it’s been a long day 

Similarly, in the first reading, the people of Israel are desperately in need of a hug. They too are having a long day. For generations, they’ve been living in exile, suffering the consequences of their sins. But now, God promises to gather them in a long, tender, consoling embrace, like a shepherd gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast

And it’s perhaps with this promise in mind, that the people in the gospel seek out John the Baptist. They too are having a long day. They too are yearning to feel the warmth of God’s embrace. Isn’t this why they let themselves be immersed in the Jordan river? And yet, those waters have no spiritual power of their own. Which is one reason why Jesus submits himself to the same immersion. Not to be cleansed from his sins, for he has none, but to make the ritual richer in meaning. To signal that he himself is the Good Shepherd, who gathers lambs to his breast, by laying down his life on a Cross.

Even so, when we look closely at how the Lord’s baptism is described in the gospel, it doesn’t look like it happened only to benefit others. For soon after Jesus is baptised, while he’s at prayer, the Holy Spirit envelops him, and the Father’s voice caresses him saying, You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you. Just as he is about to begin his intense public ministry, just before he sets out to gather others into God’s embrace, Jesus humbly takes the time to allow himself to be embraced. First by the waters of the Jordan, and then by the power of the Spirit, and the tender assurance of his Father.

This resonates well with what we find in the second reading, which both begins and ends with a striking reference to grace: God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible…. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace… We have no power to save ourselves, let alone others. What we have to do is to realise our own need for God, and to humbly draw daily from this power, as Jesus did.

Isn’t this a timely reminder for us, especially in these pandemic times? Much as the relentless grind of our daily routines, and the seductive shine of our high-tech society may prevent us from realising it, it’s been a long day for us. And we could really use a warm, sincere, reassuring, identity-restoring hug. To be reminded that, in Christ, we are already adopted children of a God who truly takes delight in us.

Sisters and brothers, sometimes it takes a tender hug to show us our own need to be bathed, not just by the waters of a river or font, but also in the tears that flow from a heavy and fragile heart. What will you do to let God embrace you today?

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