HOMILY CHRISTMAS SEASON JANUARY 11th
Children of God – Wisdom from John and John
(1 Jn 5:14-21; Ps 149; Jn 3:22-30)
Welcome to the second last day of the Christmas season, which officially ends tomorrow with the celebration of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan.
The readings today cover a broad stretch of biblical time – from the beginning of the public life of Jesus announced by John the Baptist, to near the end of the long life of St. John the evangelist, our last link to the apostolic age.
These two powerful New Testament figures offer us much wisdom in the readings on what it means to be children of God. We would do well to glean what we can from their experience of Jesus and apply it to our lives.
John the Baptist was sent on a mission ahead of Jesus to prepare the way for him. The son of a temple priest, his very presence in the wilderness and not in the temple was itself a sign of a coming radical newness the Messiah would bring. In identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, he focused attention on the mission of the Messiah – to redeem and to sanctify, to forgive and to heal.
His baptism became one of repentance, calling the world to experience the love of God above all through metanoia, a humble awareness of our need for both forgiveness and healing. In the process, he himself was filled with joy at the realization he had fulfilled his mission, and could now himself humbly fade into the background, passing on the torch to his cousin Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah.
Bishop Robert Barron shares this reflection on the role of John the Baptist in God’s plan: “We associate the Jordan with him John the Baptist, but people in his own time would have associated the Jordan with the Exodus and the conquest of the promised land. Calling people to pass through the Jordan, John was recapitulating the Exodus. Temple, forgiveness, purification, Exodus, liberation—all of these themes were drawn together in John’s person and preaching. He was summing up much of Israelite history, but stressing that this history was open-ended, unfinished. He was pointing toward the one who would be the definitive Temple, the definitive Exodus, the definitive Liberation. And therefore, how powerful it was when, upon spying Jesus coming to be baptized, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Behold the sacrifice that will sum up, complete, and perfect the temple.
This is why John says, ‘He must increase and I must decrease.’ In other words, the overture is complete, and now the great opera begins. The preparatory work of Israel is over, and now the Messiah will reign.”
For his part, St. John the evangelist offers us the benefit of many years of reflecting back upon the life, death, resurrection of Jesus, the gift of his Spirit upon the fledgling church at Pentecost, and the growth of the church over a span of over sixty years. He first reminds us the core of our lives is faith in Jesus as the Son of God, as the truth, as eternal life present here and now.
We are now to pray to the Father in his name, which means to pray for the will of the Father to be done in our lives, as Jesus did consistently and completely. He assures us our prayers will then always be answered, because we will be praying for what the Father wants to give us all along – that is, the Holy Spirit. Filled with that Spirit and immersed in the love of God, we will be able to practice the spirituality of letting go – letting go of the false gods and idols of an over-attachment to possessions and pleasure, prestige and fame, power and control.
Born of God through faith, and protected by God’s love from all that could harm us eternally, we will be truly children of God. Bishop Paul- André Durocher, during his retreat to the Western Bishops, clarified what that expression means. There are two ways of being parents – biological and relational. Everyone has a biological father and mother, who may or may not be actually involved with us from our birth, as things such as adoption and separation can happen. Those who end up truly being our parents are those who love us, raise us, affirm and bless us, challenge and discipline us, are committed to us.
It is the same with God. Every human being is created by God and in that sense, a child of God. However, through our baptism into Jesus Christ, our faith in him and our love for him, God becomes truly our Father in a much deeper, more intimate relational way, and we likewise become the children of God in a deeper, more intimate relational way. And that also becomes a source of our basic identity and profound joy.
Psalm 149 adds icing to this beautiful biblical cake – the Lord takes delight in us, and we can now sing a new song of praise with dancing, tambourine and lyre, exulting with joy in the glory of God bestowed on us, and in the victory freely offered to us especially over our sins and defects of character that mar our lives as children of God.
One of the times I keenly felt the joy and exultation of this psalm was when a group of us celebrated the Eucharist with the Catholic School District in Regina years ago, complete with a grand entrance to drums, led by at that time Chief Harry Lafond’s daughters dancing in their jingle dresses, and with me as the presider dancing in at the end of the procession. Would that we could have more of those experiences of the same joy felt by both John the Baptist, and I am sure, St. John.
May our celebration today strengthen our faith in Jesus as Son of God, Lamb of God, the long-awaited Messiah, open us up to receive his love as forgiveness and healing, and deepen within us that great joy of being truly children of God.