GRASPED BY GOD'S HAND
"I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people." (IS 42:6)
A frequently used technique in action films is a scene where a person is in danger, slipping off a cliff, or a building, or some other perilous perch. Someone grasps the person by the hand and desperately tries to pull him or her to safety. This is one of the images Isaiah gives us: God grasps the chosen servant by the hand and hangs on for dear life.
The title of today's feast "epiphany" means "manifestation" in Greek and we have to admit that the Gospel of Matthew illustrates this manifestation with a flourish. Today's feast is a filmmaker's delight because it is full of wonderful images...
On this Sunday after Christmas the Church celebrates the Holy Family. The Holy Family is, of course, Jesus, Mary and Joseph but in remembering this family of families, we also celebrate all families as sacred.
Theme: "Dare to Believe in the Impossible"
Birth announcements are usually good news, and therefore they are joyful! Family members and friends would send greetings and best wishes to the new parents. At "baby showers," women would gather to celebrate and give gifts to the expectant mother. Typical gifts related to babies include diapers, blankets, baby bottles, and toys. However, in this Sunday's gospel reading, Matthew's version of Jesus' birth announcement is noticeably stark and somber. It is filled with suspense and portends a possibly tragic outcome.
In Chapter 50 of Isaiah, the prophet says he has been given a well-trained tongue, to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. In this season of Advent, the readings we are given to hear today do indeed have words that rouse feelings and responses in us as we approach the great feast of the Incarnation at Christmas.
What is the relationship between the "peaceable kingdom" imaged in today's readings and our current urgent call to re-establish the ecological harmony that human actions have so profoundly damaged in recent years? There is a connection - but not a literal one. For example, take the line that says "the lion shall eat hay like the ox." As anyone who has ever had a cat around the house knows, felines may nibble a little grass here and there, but their digestive systems are made to thrive on meat. Cats are predators, built to hunt and kill for a living.
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42)
In December 1997, Las Abejas, a group of forty-eight indigenous communities whose name means "the bees," came to the world's attention when forty-five of their members, mostly women and children, were murdered. They were killed by paramilitary troops while they were fasting and praying for peace in their rough-hewn wooden chapel in the village of Acteal, Mexico.
The readings for this Sunday have a rather sober, even ominous mood about them. A famous passage from the Prophet Malachi speaks of the final days of judgment that will fall upon Israel. That day will be "blazing like an oven" and those who are "proud" and "all evildoers" will be like burnt "stubble." The "fire" of that judgment day will consume them and leave "neither root nor branch".
Jesus proclaimed, served, and witnessed to the Reign of God. He proclaimed it through his parables, served it through his actions of healing and forgiveness, and witnessed to it through his behavior, particularly in table fellowship with the marginalized. These were all counter-cultural actions. By our baptism, we are to continue this mission of Jesus, with and without words, in both small and large ways.