Over the Christmas season, the gospels we proclaim are so familiar, so memorable, that perhaps we a prone to listen to the other readings as but prelude to the story of the Christ Child. Prelude they are indeed, but they in themselves are also the powerful Word of God come to us. Perhaps none more powerful than the Prophet Isaiah or St. Paul. This week we hear Isaiah mightily proclaim: “I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people.” (Is 42:6) While they are indeed prophecy pointing to Jesus and his mission, they are also words proclaimed to us, to the baptized, those thus commissioned and sent into the world for the victory of justice.
Isaiah and Paul have been preparing us for this celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Preparing us to get ready to go out into the world on mission, just as we celebrate Jesus beginning his public ministry. Consider this: two Sundays ago, on the Feast of the Holy Family, we listened to some of the best advise about how to become a holy family. St. Paul wrote in the Letter to the Colossians: “Put on,… heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…And over all these put on love” (Col 3:12-13). It raises the question to all of us, in whatever form our families take, are we practicing those virtues in order to become a holy family? Would someone on the outside peer into our families and see evidence of those virtues?
I think St. Paul understands the challenge of these virtues, especially in the cauldron of family life. He tells us to “Put on…” these virtues, as though they were something easily available to us and yet something we might well have to consciously strive to do. For example, what about those times when interiorly we feel anything but those virtues? Those moments when you have no inner peace, anger is bubbling up, and the words you are thinking – if you say them aloud – you know you will regret. In that moment “Put on…” compassion, humility, kindness, patience, bear with one another, forgive, and above all love – at least put them on in the words you do speak, the work of your hands, and the smile on your face. And keep doing them, keep putting them on, practice, practice, practice. Because in practicing what you desire you will become what you seek. Those virtues enacted in the world have their own way of working their from your hands, back thru the arms, into your heart; it is then you will deeply know fruit of your practice: the peace, love, kindness, compassion, patience and humility of Christ.
If two weeks ago, the reading from Colossians called us to practice and become a holy family by living out those virtues with the boundaries of our family, then last week’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah called us to extend our holy family into the world – to live those virtues in our schools, among our friends, in our places of work, with our clients, and in those random encounters in life. We are to be the Epiphany, the manifestation of the virtues of Christ in life.
Isaiah called us to “Rise up in splendor …Your light has come…” He reminds us that the light of the world has come into the world and the Lord will light our way – be the lamp unto our path. That can seem like a daunting task to us because the world can be a tough place. Isaiah knows that. The prophet cautions us to be realistic: “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples” even as we are reminded the Lord shines His light on us and covers us with his glory – those virtues we have practiced and are now living in our family and in the world. “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance” – that is the power of compassion, humility, kindness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving, and above all loving – the powerful and even the whole nation can be led by our example revealing to them the love of God.
And so the prophets tells us to “Rise up … Raise your eyes and look about.” Just as the shepherd in rose up from their fields, visited the Christ child, and proclaimed all that they had seen and heard. The actions of their lives revealed Christ among us. The Magi came rose up from their lands and came to give homage to the King of Kings. The actions of their lives revealed Christ among us.
“Rise up … Raise your eyes and look about.” Jesus rose up from the Jordan, from the waters of his baptism, and looked about and saw us – a people lost and in need of a savior. He had no need of salvation – he is salvation itself. And yet through the waters of baptism He committed and joined His life to ours. He rose up from among us, in order to reach into our world, into our families, into our hearts, into the very waters of our own baptism, For it is in our baptism, in the moment we bless ourselves with water from the fonts at the doors of the church, and in the moment we renew our baptismal vows in our prayers of the Creed – “I believe” – that we should hear Jesus speaking to us in the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
“I, the LORD, have called you…I have grasped you by the hand.” In a particular and intentional way, you are chosen, you have been pulled into the glory of God through the waters of baptism
“I formed you,” Those saving waters formed you in the beginnings of the virtues… but the virtues need to be practiced. We pray that your family is continuing to form you in heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and above all, in love.
Because you are more than just someone called to live the virtues in the world… “I formed you…and set you as a covenant of the people”
“Set you as a covenant.” Do we know how powerful those simple words are? Covenant – a vow, a promise, a bond, a connection that binds us to the promise and the power of Christ on one side and to the world on the other, as Isaiah wrote: “a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”
You are set as a covenant to be the living embodiment of the virtues of Christ in the world. Virtues started in baptism, practiced in the family, and lived in the world. You are the living covenant of God with the people in and around your life. You are a means for God to fulfill his promises begun in Christ.
So “Rise up … Raise your eyes and look about.” Live out the promises of baptism and family – be the covenant embodied for the world, and in the end of days, may you Christ say to you, “This is my beloved brother, my beloved sister, in whom I am well pleased.