Today we celebrate the last day of Christmas. So for the last time we can wish one another “merry Christmas.” Before the end of the weekend we will take down all the Christmas decorations and get settled into winter ordinary time and the long wait until Easter.
But we still have a day to go - so “merry Christmas.” On this last Sunday of the Christmas season we celebrate the great feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It is like a second Epiphany. Last week we learned that Epiphany means “manifestation of God” or “the “aha moment of understanding a great truth.” Well, today we remember when Jesus went to the river Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist.
And remember what happened next? The heavens opened up and the spirit of God came down on Jesus. The voice of the Father was heard saying “this is my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” In this very moment we have a true epiphany. In fact, we call this episode a “theophany” – and that is a fancy word that means a true “revelation of God.” The Holy Trinity was revealed in that moment. The Holy Spirit came down like a dove. The Voice of the Father was heard. Jesus was revealed as the beloved Son. So we have a revelation of the Holy Trinity.
In the gospel of Mark this is the moment when we first encounter Jesus as the revealed Messiah. Jesus came to fulfill the will of the Father. Our first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah gives us more insight into what this means. It is a messianic prophecy and refers to what the messiah will accomplish. The key word in this passage is the word “justice.” Let’s look at some key phrases. “He shall bring forth justice to the nations.” “He establishes justice on the earth.” “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice.”
Three times, in this passage, the oracle emphasizes the concept of justice as a key component of the purpose of the messiah. To bring forth justice, to establish justice, and to have the victory of justice. A little later it describes what this looks like. It is startling.
1. to be a covenant of the people
2. to be a light for the nations
3. to open the eyes of the blind.
4. to bring out prisoners from confinement
Let’s consider the idea of God’s justice as explained by Isaiah. This is the will of the Father given to Jesus in his messianic ministry. And, since through baptism we share in the life of Jesus, it is our Christian task as well. Justice is this: “the restoration of right relationship.” This, in a nutshell, is what Jesus set out to do. Where all has gone hopelessly wrong and apparently unfixable, Jesus set out to bring us into right relationship with God and with one another. It starts in the person of Jesus who accomplished the Father’s will perfectly. Therefore he himself became the covenant for the people and the light for the nations. Through his covenant by the cross and resurrection and by the light of his perfect righteousness he opens the eyes of the spiritually blind and brings those imprisoned by sin out of confinement. That’s the restoration he accomplishes. Where we all deserve separation from God because of our sins Jesus obtains for us both pardon and healing. He restores us to right relationship with God.
This has amazing implications for us. It is an “aha” moment of truth unlike any other. Through faith in Jesus we are able to receive unconditional pardon from our sins. Over and over again when we return to him in faith. Over and over again he brings us into right relationship with God and with one another.
Therefore, we are called to do the same. For this reason in the epistle of James he says this; “faith without works is dead.” Faith demands works of justice. Faith calls for restoration to right relationship with God and with one another.
So, here’s a question. How do we make that practical? How do we accomplish works of justice in our world today? While one could look at the violence in the world today and point to the increase in works of darkness, each and every one of us is given the task to acknowledge God, take the next right step, and become a beacon of hope for others. So let’s consider three works of justice that all of us can do.
The first work of justice is prayer. We return to God with thanks and open our hearts to listen. Prayer is the key and the foundation for anything else good to happen. Prayer is the first work of justice.
The second work of justice is reconciliation. We return to God and to our neighbor to give and receive pardon because of our offenses. And we no longer hold our neighbor in debt because of their offenses. The prisoner is set free. Confession, absolution, and penance are necessary elements for there to be justice. As believers in Jesus, we must be committed to celebrating this sacramentally and living it out with others. Reconciliation is the second work of justice.
The third work of justice is communion. As we are reconciled to one another and to God we are then brought into communion with one another. There are now no longer barriers of hostility between us. Therefore the Eucharist is the pre-eminent sacramental sign of the work of Christ to accomplish communion in us. And, as we learn in the gospel of John from the story of the upper room, in order for communion to be lived we must wash feet. We must do works of loving service. Communion is the third work of justice.
Prayer, reconciliation, and communion have a profound meaning for us all. It is in these works of justice that the Holy One, the Mighty One, the Savior of the world is revealed through his Church. For it is Jesus, present in his Church, who shall bring forth justice to the nations.
It is Jesus, present in his Church, who establishes justice on the earth.
It is Jesus, present in his Church, who has the victory of justice.
It is Jesus, present in his Church, who eternally receives these words from the Father – “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
This is God’s justice – a gift of grace to us all. So once again we rejoice in the gift of Jesus, God’s only Son. Once again we can say with gratitude – “Merry Christmas.”