Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, BCC, PCC
January 9th, 2022
Excerpt from
Jesus the Holy Fool
EAS, Sheed & Ward, 1999

The Incarnation leads us into the place of pathos --that place where God suffers pain, rejection and indignity. But this pathos is not just for the sake of suffering in solidarity with humanity; rather it is the supreme act of generosity whereby God invites all of us foolish, fallen ones to share in the divine nature, for as Athanasius states, "God became human in order that human beings might become God." By participating in our sufferings, , God raises human anguish to the sphere of divine activity; as a result, through suffering we not only encounter God but become God-like. No condition it too wretched or too hopeless; and nobody is excluded from this process of "divinization" through pain.

The Incarnation also reveals a God of humility. Varillon, basing his premise on the fact that with God one cannot separate act and being, writes, "The Incarnation is an act of humility because God is a being of humility." Simply put, the author of creation becomes "of earth" (humus) for the sake of love. Because of God's humility, the divine breath once again animates humankind, transforming clumsy clods into things of beauty made in the divine image. Through the Incarnation, human flesh is delivered from dust and decay to become the very temple in which God resides; through the Incarnation, in the person of the Divine Child, God becomes the promise that we will never again be left orphaned.


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  • What do you understand by the word "Epiphany"?

  • Have you ever experienced any epiphanies in your life and, if so, what happened?

  • Why do you think that the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the culmination of the Christmas season?

  • How do you live out the reality of your baptism?

Greetings, SBT Readers!

The first week of the new year has already come and gone, but COVID and uncertainty remain. For most of us, life continues to be unpredictable, affecting everything from travel to employment, from schooling to attending church, from entertainment to healthcare. Activities we previously enjoyed have now become risky -- should we attend that family gathering, go to that wedding, meet that friend for dinner, take that trip, return to the office, or keep that doctor's appointment? Even wearing masks and being vaccinated aren't enough to keep the new variants at bay and the new, shorter quarantine recommendations may ultimately prove to be a disastrous mistake.

Life has always been precarious but we often distract ourselves by keeping busy, indulging addictions, or moving into a state of denial. But rather than return to the medieval practice of meditating on symbols of the transience of earthly life, I believe that other "tried and true" practices are called for. The first is the practice of gratitude for every moment that we have and for everything and everyone we encounter in that moment. The second is to embrace one day at a time, not dwelling on what has been or anticipating what might be, but being fully present in the here and now. And the third is compassion in action -- not just using emojis to express sadness on Facebook but reaching out to someone who needs support of some kind. There are other practices, and prayer, of course, is foundational to all of them; these three, however, will save us from self-pity, depression and hopelessness. They will also keep us aligned with a purposeful life and with God's dream for creation.




The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them, saying, 
“I baptize you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

After all the people had been baptized 
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, 
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove. 
And a voice came from heaven, 
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”

In many ways, this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord feels like a strange end to the Christmas season. Within the span of a week, our liturgical texts have carried us from the stable in Bethlehem to the shores of the River Jordan, from the Infant Jesus to the Adult Christ. While churches are still decorated for Christmas, most homes and secular settings are already in "ordinary time"-- or preparing for Valentine's Day! Symbolically, things seem jumbled, especially as the presence of John the Baptist in today's Gospel seems like a throwback to Advent. If we can move beyond the symbolism, however, to the deeper meaning, then what we find is continuity rather than confusion.

The Incarnation has always been about more than the birth of a child -- even the Holy Child! At the Announcement of the conception of Jesus, the Angel Gabriel focuses on the Child's divine kingship, telling Mary that her son will "rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:33). Similarly, the angel that appears to the shepherds describes the Child as savior, messiah and Lord (Lk 2:11), while Simeon names the Child as a "light of revelation for the Gentiles" and glory for Israel (LK 2:32). For his part, John the Baptist preaches an Adult Christ, one with winnowing fan in hand who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. This Christ will separate the wheat from the chaff, gathering the wheat (the righteous) into his barn while condemning the chaff (the evil ones) to unquenchable fire (Lk 3:17). How different this imagery is from portrayals of a helpless babe lying in a manger! It is one thing to sing Silent Night before a Nativity scene and quite another to see an impassioned Jesus calling out hypocrisy, defying the religious leaders, and ignoring social conventions -- all in the name of Love.

Yes, it is good to linger in Bethlehem but not for too long. The message of Jesus' birth is that God was born into the poverty and vulnerability of the human condition. What we see in the Holy Child is the humility of God -- a humility that demonstrates that God is unimpressed by the world's standards of majesty. This humility is also evident at the baptism of Jesus.
As I stated in Jesus the Holy Fool, Jesus' baptism was problematic for the early church because it implied "sinfulness and the need for forgiveness" (73). The inauguration of Jesus' ministry began not with triumphant fanfare but with a striking moment of reversal: "The one who would be proclaimed as Kyrios humbled himself in the waters of repentance as though he, too, were in need of cleansing and public atonement" (73).

The Baptism of Jesus offers another Epiphany moment in which God manifests in unusual circumstances -- in this case, in the muddy waters of the Jordan. It reminds us that the Holy can be found in every circumstance of our lives -- that nothing we experience can separate us from God's love. It also calls us to wrestle with the same question that accompanied Jesus to the desert after his Baptism: to what are we being called? Baptism and mission are inseparable: if we have been baptized, then we can be sure that God is calling us to grow in faith, act in love, and serve with compassion.

But where? And how? And when?

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