January 10, 2021-Baptism of the Lord
My friends in Christ, today’s Mass celebration is the Baptism of the Lord, and with this, our blessed immersion in the holy Christmas season now comes to a close and the first part of Ordinary Time begins. And we remember from last weekend and our celebration of the Epiphany that there are in fact three great epiphanies that the Epiphany commemorates…and the Baptism of the Lord is one of them. The great epiphany of the magi from the East reveals that the newborn Christ-Child, Jesus, is the long-awaited King and Messiah; the great epiphany of the Baptism of the Lord reveals that Jesus Christ the King also is the beloved Son of God (“You are My beloved Son. With You, I am well pleased.”); and the great epiphany of the wedding feast at Cana reveals the first miracle of Christ the King and Son of God, officially launching His public ministry, leading Him ultimately to the Cross and, through the Cross, to Resurrection glory.
And all of this very much relates to the fourth and final act, so to speak, of the great drama known as the kerygma, the Greatest Story Ever Told: Response. Last week, we reflected upon how the major characters involved in each of those three great Gospel epiphanies responded to that which had been revealed to them; and then, I shared about two bona fide epiphanies that I myself have been blessed to be given in my life thus far. But I fear that I made it sound like that unless you are given a great epiphany, then it is impossible for you to venture your Response to the call of Christ. And so, we continue today with our reflections on Response, and even in the absence of some great epiphany, nevertheless, we are…each of us…certainly called by Christ to enter into life with Him, thus to receive His grace…and we are to avoid any and all actions and behaviors, temptations and sins that otherwise would expunge that grace and expel it from our lives…so that, at the end of days, we will be blessed with heavenly reward in the eternity of Paradise. Because it is true that many people in fact may not have experienced great epiphany, as yet. But even so, as I say, we are still called by Christ…and that call requires our Response. And an absence of personal great epiphany – a lack of it…having not yet experienced it personally…that is no excuse whatsoever not to respond to the call of Christ – because Jesus “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”
Now, in the end, our Response really is nothing more than a “yes,” or a “no.” Do we or do we not respond to the call of Christ to be His active and intentional disciples, faithful and joyful, yes or no? And this is not my claim – Jesus Himself says this! “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” There it is! Yes or no? Life or death? Heaven or hell? It really is nothing more complicated than that.
So, it is not complicated…yet obviously, it is very difficult! What a strange paradox! And why in the world would we ever not make our Response to the call of Christ a firm and resounding yes?
What is it that tempts us to choose no? What prevents us, holds us back from choosing that great and glorious yes? I would like to offer a few ideas regarding this, though of course this certainly is not an exhaustive list. What tempts us not to choose God? Fear. Fear of inconvenience, and fear of discomfort. It is inconvenient, truly, that to choose God also necessarily means that we choose a life of proper virtue. There is moral truth. What is true for you is true for me in the realm of moral truth. If sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin, then it is always a sin, for everybody; and this is not open for discussion or debate…. And so on down the line – moral truth is exactly that: moral truth.
But that is inconvenient, and sometimes even uncomfortable. Because saying “yes” to Christ just might mean having to suffer being convicted of certain inconvenient realities about ourselves. And that is precisely why Christ calls us first to repentance. We are going to hear it proclaimed by the Lord Himself on the First Sunday in Lent: “The Kingdom of God is at hand…repent…and believe in the Gospel.” Rise up, face the facts, behold the inconvenient and uncomfortable realities of your being convicted of some certain things…and repent. We fear change; and to repent is the beginning of life’s changing. And we fear the unknown – of what comes next. We fear change because we prefer safe and familiar, and change very likely removes us from what we perceive as safe and familiar. Thus, it is the unknown toward which change directs us – toward which repentance directs us. There are other fears besides that tempt us not to choose God, such as the very common and understandable fear of being rejected by family and friends…. And so, fear definitely tempts us not to choose God.
There is also ease. The call of Christ challenges us to engage in holy Response; it challenges us to do something…but it is just way easier to do nothing. Stay the course. Steady as she goes. Or, my personal favorite: the way we have always done it. Or, again, simply put: do nothing. And that is so much easier than do something…. It is easier just to go with the flow – but there is very grave danger
in that. As G.K. Chesterton said, “A dead thing can go with the [flow], but only a living thing can go against it.” So true…. It is easier just to stay with the familiar, indiscriminately, totally unthinking in sticking with the “good ol’ tried-and-true” and “the way we have always done it.” Yes, it is difficult to strive for that Christian ideal, to respond to the call of Christ. And Chesterton has something to say about that, as well: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
And so, fear and ease: two major factors that tempt us not to choose God.
What prevents us, holds us back from choosing God? Maybe not so much tempting us away from the call of Christ, but nonetheless blocking us from moving forward and responding with a firm and faithful, joyful “yes” to His high calling? Again, this is not exhaustive, but I propose two factors in this regard. The first: a claim of unworthiness. “I am unworthy of the high call.” And you know what my response is to that – that is, my response after I burst out with my patented laugh? “Join the club!” Because none of us is worthy! And yet, Jesus calls us anyway; He does not call the worthy…but rather, He makes worthy those whom He calls. So…get over yourself! Put down that false humility, which is actually just another iteration of pride, and acknowledge that you are unworthy, and He still calls you anyway…. The second factor: procrastination. “I want to respond to the call of Christ, and I will…but not yet.” Saint Augustine famously prayed to God, “Give me chastity…but not yet.”
Jesus Himself encountered the “not-yet” response in the Gospel narratives. He said to one man, “Follow Me,” but the man replied, “Let me go first and bury my father.” He basically said to Jesus, “Not yet.” And to that “not-yet” response, Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Then, another man said to Jesus, “I will follow You, Lord,” but not yet. “First, let me say farewell to my family at home.” And to that “not-yet,” Jesus replied, “No one who…looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Jeremy Cassidy, our regional coordinator for FOCUS, offers a great image: if you were on the sidewalk, walking along the city streets, and rocking His awesome jet-black Lamborghini, Jesus suddenly were to pull up alongside you, throwing open the passenger-side door and with an urgent and undeniable gravity saying to you, “Get in,” would you get in…now…at that moment? Or would you say to Him, “Not yet?”
Rejecting those temptations not to choose God and overcoming all what holds us back from responding “yes” to the call of Christ…. I am very eager, right now, to do what I bet they do there at Valley Real Life and conduct an altar-call – asking each of you to receive Jesus in your hearts right now and to show this by standing up and coming forward to the altar…but you can all relax. Breathe! I will not do that – ha! And yet…instead, I do strongly encourage all of you…each of you (and in fact, I would actually require this, if I could!)…to take time today…in personal private prayer today…to speak to God and to listen to God – today…and answer the call of Christ with a firm and faithful Response: yes! And though choosing Jesus might be inconvenient, and it might be scary, and you might suffer rejection from family and friends, and you might have to change some things about your life…well, so be it! Because lots of things are going to change when Earth finally gives way to Heaven – and I say: thanks be to God for that! And in any event, Christ never promised that any of this would be easy; He only promised us that it would worth it.
And so what if you are not worthy! Get over yourself – none of us is worthy! But Jesus calls you anyway. And dare not say, “not yet.” Because we know neither the day nor the hour, and so we dare not miss our chance. We dare not have Jesus weep over us as He wept over Jerusalem, “If only you knew…the time of your visitation!”
Our Response is the last chapter of the Greatest Story Ever Told, and this Story remains, as yet, incomplete until we choose “yes” or “no” to the call of Christ…. And so and in conclusion, we end today’s reflections as we ended last weekend for the Epiphany…that is, with a question: the call of Christ definitely and truly commands our Response – and so: when, please God, we are blessed to encounter the Lord, with (or even without) great epiphany…when we hear that call of Christ…how will we respond?
on Tuesday, January 19 at 12:12PM