Texts for contemplation: Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-21; John 1:19-34; John 2:1-11
Although we have left behind the celebration of Christmas, liturgically we are still basking in the light of God manifest in human flesh. This is also the time of Carnival and Mardi Gras.
We tend not to give much thought to this period between Christmas and Ash Wednesday. We may stop briefly to hear God’s call to the Beloved and speak of God’s love. Yet, We wait to hear the call to repentance till we enter the somber self-reflective desert landscape of Lent.
We first hear John the Baptist cry of metanoia, repentance, as we prepare for the joy of Christmas, and we encounter the fiery prophet John the forerunner again as we celebrate the Baptism of Christ at Epiphany.
We are in a moment of enlightenment, of ecstasy or celebration. The joy of Christmas hasn’t come to an end, not yet. From Epiphany to Ash Wednesday we continue in that joy through deepened understanding and enlightenment.
God the Father speaks to the Son Jesus of Nazareth as the Spirit confirms and presents this speech, “this is my beloved in whom I’m well pleased.” These words are spoken to a human being.
The gift given to all through God’s words to Jesus of Nazareth in that moment of the Baptism is something we have to prepare to receive. John the Baptist proclamation and call to repent calls us to prepare ourselves for the joy of transformation.
In this moment in which God as trinity and God as incarnate in the human Jesus of Nazareth is revealed we also can see God’s love for all humanity and all creation. In Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God the Son, all humanity and all creation is taken up into that address. In Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son in human flesh, all humanity is the beloved in whom God is well pleased. At the Baptism the individual Jesus of Nazareth isn’t the only one addressed, nor is this address addressed to all humanity without the mediation of Jesus of Nazareth.
How do we receive this amazing address and how do we find ourselves able to receive this love? In some sense Johns preaching and call to repentance, or change of mind, way of thinking, addresses two very human responses to God saying you are my beloved: either we say Well yes of course or no that can’t ever be. Both actually keep God at bay and at arm’s length. One with a presumption of relationship the other a refusal of relationship based on an enlarged sense of shame and unworthiness. Both underlie much pain and are the result of hurt we inflict upon each other as human beings.
This moment of revelation enlighten and manifestation should shake us. God’s love is intense, it seeks our transformation into who we truly are, beloved of God.
We all have barriers to hearing God’s address to us in and through Jesus of Nazareth. We must be prepared to receive God in human flesh; we need to prepare ourselves to receive the gift of being beloved of God in Jesus of Nazareth. We prepare to receive this gift in celebration and in joy, not in self-denial and sorrow (these are coming).
Liturgically, it is significant that we hear the call to repentance and God’s address to us as beloved, in a time of celebration and not first in the desert landscape of Lent.
If we are unaware of this season after epiphany and its joy, ecstasy and continued celebration of the incarnation, we may have a primarily negative view of repentance.
There is a place for the being cut to the quick by our human failings and the asceticism of Lent. However, for us to have the means to thoroughly examine ourselves in Lenten discipline we must also know the joy of being called to repent because we are loved.
The first sign the Jesus performs according the Gospel of John is turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. In the Gospel of John this follows directly upon Jesus baptism. Jesus ministry and the reason his disciples and others first believe in him is because of this unnecessary and celebratory act. Jesus attends a celebration of life and through turning water into wine not only allows the celebration to continue but does so with fine wine, some of the best the steward of the feast has ever tasted.
In this moment between Christmas and Ash Wednesday we are called to be opened to God’s justice and righteousness through celebration, in light. We celebrate and in that celebration are called to repentance, to the change of mind and heart. We tur to God not in shame, but the joy of God’s embrace of humanity and all creation in the person Jesus of Nazareth.