I imagine waves when I read the account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, not just waves of the river but the waves of birth and death, birth and death, birth and death. The first movement is this: What I actually find most remarkable about this story of Jesus’ baptism is what comes right after it. Right after this, Jesus is going to be led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, and then after that he’ll begin his earthly ministry.
The French liturgist Jean Corbon gave me a new understanding about the ascension of Jesus when he refers to the “eternal ascension” of Jesus. In other words, it is not a static one-time-only event but part of an ongoing process. Where the Head has gone the rest of the Body is going. The same thing could apply to the feast of the Epiphany. The ancient tradition used to refer to at least three events as the epiphany, the visit of the Magi, the wedding feast at Cana, and the Baptism of Jesus. But really Jesus’ whole life as well as his passion, death and resurrection were an epiphany. And there is an ongoing epiphany too, in the world, in the Church, in us.
I love the figure of Anna, the prophetess in the temple in the Gospel of Luke (2:36-40). She usually is paired with Simeon, whose story we heard yesterday and last Sunday and will her again on the feast of the Presentation on February 2nd. But today (December 30th) she gets a whole day to herself. You’ll recall that especially the infancy narratives in the Gospel of Luke are all about the fulfillment of promises, and especially the canticles of Mary, Zechariah and Simeon from the Gospel of Luke are chock full of images from the Hebrew Scriptures that are brought to their completion, their fulfillment in this story of Jesus’ birth.
For the longest time theologically I was sort of obsessed with the Spirit, both the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God––the spirit that is power, the spirit that pervades the universe, the spirit that is the source and the summit in whom we live and move and have our being, and also that indefinable part of ourselves that we sometimes call our spirit, the deepest part of our own being beyond all name and form, the cave of the heart. But that has slowly shifted. Now I seem to be totally obsessed with the Incarnation. And that of course is what we celebrate at Christmas––yes, the birth of Jesus, but really the Incarnation of God. Or maybe I should make that more specific: What I’ve been fascinated with is the Word-made-flesh.
From today on (December 19th) we’re going to hear nothing but the Gospel of Luke until Christmas. As you know, Mark and John don’t even tell the story of Jesus’ birth. All of the images that we have around Jesus’ birth (which, one must admit, contradict each other sometimes) are from Matthew or Luke. I spent a lot of time with the infancy narratives of Luke, so it’s the one I like the best because it’s the one I know the best.