JANUARY 6, 2010 – 1 JOHN 5:5-13; MARK 1:7-11

 

Today, January 6, the twelfth day after Christmas, is the date proper to the Epiphany. Indeed, Shakespeare witnesses to the fact that this eve of this feast was in times past called “The Twelfth Night”. Since it closed the Christmas festivities it was a day of celebration, so he used this name as the title of one of his comedies.  The readings we have just heard reflect the mystery of the Epiphany, which means “Appearance”, or “Revelation”, even though, for practical reasons, the liturgy now commemorated this event this past Sunday. The Epiphany that Matthew records in the early pages of his Gospel concerns the revelation of the heavenly sent infant to the nations of the world, represented by the Magi. Mark also describes an epiphany but one that is made early in the public ministry of our Lord, omitting any reference to the human origins of the Savior. JESUS SAW THE SKY RENT IN TWO AND THE SPIRIT DESCENDING ON HIM LIKE A DOVE. THEN A VOICE CAME FROM THE HEAVENS: “YOU ARE MY BELOVED SON.”  The experience of our Lord recorded with these words is recounted in the opening chapter of Mark’s Gospel with the effect of introducing as a background to the whole of his active life a transcendent horizon. In the person of Jesus we are introduced to the existence of an invisible God who is so intimately present in him as to claim to be his Father. God himself is active in this man baptized by John and commissioned to speak and teach in his Father’s name. This hidden God manifests himself, Mark assures us, by means of voice that discloses the true identity of the man who name, Jesus, had already designated him as the Savior. If Mark presents this epiphany at the beginning of the public life of Jesus, his purpose is to place the whole of our Lord’s teaching and activities as well as in his periods of solitary prayer and retirement within God’s plan of reconciliation. This revelation is made on the occasion when our Lord submits to a baptism of repentance, as a sign that he takes on himself the sins of the human race so as to bring about our reconciliation with the God who reveals with these words the mission that now begins. In this man Jesus, God himself is directly present and acting to restore and heal the creature made in his image and likeness.

 

There is an invisible world that communicates with the world of our daily life in various ways. This transcendent world, however, reveals itself with a unique accessibility through the presence of this person Jesus. All his doings, all his speech, his very person have a hidden energy that derives from God himself. In the opening event of his public life already there is revealed the mysterious fact that the one God exists as three persons and actively engages himself in our human history in the person of the man Jesus. His appearance is the inception of a new creation that functions in time according to its own distinctive laws that are gradually disclosed in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of the Son of Mary. The only way to grasp the full meaning of the Gospel of Mark is to approach it with the understanding provided by this initial perspective that in Jesus, his beloved Son, God the Father also is present and acts through his Spirit.

 

Faith in this revelation comes directly from heaven itself, as an invitation to enter that world where God is all in all. There is no other access to the ultimate reality that sustains all the cosmos than the decision we make to believe the witness of the man Jesus as recorded by his evangelist, Mark. Faith in the mystery of the Incarnation is a gift of grace that is much more than appears at first. As we grow in knowledge of  the God who becomes man in the infant Jesus we gradually realize why Saint John in his First Epistle affirms that “faith is a victory that overcomes the world.” For faith, in proportion as we make it our own, not only reveals understanding about God, but also makes us partakers of the eternal life who is God himself. Faith is a new form of existence that effects a radical transformation of our very self. Faith in Jesus as the Son of God, equal to the Father even while appearing as a human infant, brings it about that our life is lived already in eternity even while we exist in this world of time.       

 
Ben Sirach possessed a deep insight into a feature of this created world that he enunciated in a lapidary phrase: “All things are twofold, one as counterpart to the other.” (42.25) God’s Epiphany in the person of his beloved Son has as its counterpart his reception by those whom he addresses. This response takes the form of a welcoming belief in his Son whose true identity is revealed by the heavenly voice at his baptism. The response of our faith is more than an assent of the mind to the truth of this revelation; it is a commitment of our whole life, our very self, to the person of the Savior and to the message he brings us by his words and example. The new life that the birth of Jesus brings to this visible creation is of such a personal nature as to become fully realized only through the most intimate of human acts, that is to say, by loving trust in his person. We can come to know the Lord only by giving our very self to him, from the heart. Gregory the Great understood this fundamental feature of our faith and passé it on to William of Saint Thierry who expressed it with lapidary brevity: “Love itself is knowledge.” Saint Augustine had already pointed out to both that only by consenting to love can we arrive at true understanding of life and of reality itself. “The one who knows the unchangeable light”, he wrote, “knows eternity. Charity knows it. O eternal truth, and true charity, and dear eternity! You are my God.” (Conf. 7: 10.16 (PL 32:742) The Epiphany celebrates this truth that is the personal, living God, the creator. He reveals himself to us in the infant child of Mary. His birth in the flesh is given to us who receive him by a trusting faith, that is the response of grateful love. Such is the message of today’s Gospel.
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Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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