The Baptism of the Lord

Last Wednesday, we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, the 12th and final day of the Christmas Season. I suspect many homes have taken down the Christmas tree and decorations before then, a regrettable but necessary ritual marking the end of what is always a very special time of the year; a season full of mystery and colour for so many households, a sad and particularly lonely time for some people, for families and individuals without permanent shelter - a poignant reminder of a harsher side of life, for Christians a celebration of an event that has shaped and influenced our lives enormously.

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Many families may have introduced the three wise men to the stable well before the official entry date on the Feast of the Epiphany, but the underlying significance of their appearance is what’s most important. Epiphany is about manifestation; revealing, disclosing something to the public. In the case of the visitation of the wise men, it is a graphic means of disclosing ‘Divinity’ as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and a powerful reminder to all people of our own natural bond with God as ‘Spiritual Persons’.   The account of the Maji embarking on a journey, searching for ‘the pearl of great price’, is a picturesque way of depicting people looking for meaning, understanding and a means of coping with the ups and downs of everyday life. Their meeting with Herod is a stark reminder of the darker side of human nature spurred on by lust for power and a constant reminder of us living in a fragile and fragmented world. 

TS Eliot scripted a vivid account of that symbolic journey undertaken by the Maji…

A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
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These words certainly resonate with us during the opening weeks of January. As the poem unfolds, we read of the Maji journeying on, despite the many challenges and hardships they encounter along the way.   Even though, at the end of the journey, their venture was still shrouded with questions, they sensed that what had happened.

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were we led all that way for Birth or Death?

There was a Birth, certainly. We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death

The Journey of the Maji - TS Eliot

Before Christmas I quoted the first section of Kavanagh’s Poem - Advent. In the second section he is more upbeat… 

O after Christmas we'll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We'll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we'll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won't we be rich, my love and I, and

God we shall not ask for reason's payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God's breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.

                              Advent - Paddy Kavanagh

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On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord we celebrate the desire Christ has to immerse himself ritually in the Jordan waters as a means of evoking the Spirit of God to sustain him during the challenge of his public ministry. Let us avail of this feast to renew our own Baptismal resolve and evoke that same Spirit to support and guide us all during this difficult time in our lives and the lives of those close to us.

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