Greetings, SBT Readers!
What is courage? This is the question we need to ponder following the storming of the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6th, 2020 -- a day traditionally associated with the Feast of the Epiphany. Courage is not about inciting mob violence from behind a podium or through a series of half-crazed tweets; nor is it looting, pillaging, and creating mayhem, emboldened by crowd frenzy. Nor is it courageous to resign from office like rats abandoning a sinking ship-- that is mere expediency. Nor is it courageous to advocate violence one day and recant the next. No. Courage is based on consistent integrity, daring to speak Truth, and doing what is right, at the right time, because this is what common decency calls us to do. It involves standing alone to tell the Emperor that he is really naked, even if others have convinced him he is the epitome of sartorial magnificence!
Speaking out when one has nothing to lose is not courage; conversely, real courage involves speaking out when there is everything to lose. It is easy to chat with the media and condemn Wednesday's attempted coup when one is no longer in office; it is not so easy to stand alone, against one's own political party, to contradict the party line in the interest of Truth. Nor is it easy to be on the ground, in the midst of the fray, covering violence as a reporter or news commentator; nor as a first responder trying to reach the injured or dying; nor as a police officer like Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, valiantly trying to protect the Capitol without essential support, and resources...
Jesus came to be "a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness" (Is 55:1-11). Fulfilling this mission took courage -- that is, greatness of heart.
(Latin: "cor"; Old French: "corage"; Modern French: "coeur"); it also entailed paying the ultimate price for truth-speaking and for going against the status quo. Anyone who claims that Jesus would have supported Wednesday's violent attack on democracy or who carried a poster proclaiming "JESUS 2021" has neither met the Jesus of the Gospels nor the Jesus of Faith.
Many Blessings and Much Courage!
This is what John the Baptist proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Mk 1: 7-11
Though it seems strange to be singing Christmas Carols after the Feast of the Epiphany, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
adds an important dimension to the liturgical celebration of Christmas: instead of focussing on the Mystery of the Incarnation as expressed in the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, we turn our attention to the first appearance of the Adult Christ which, in each of the gospels, happens to be at his baptism. What the infancy narratives and baptism narratives share in common is that they present epiphany moments, that is, moments of revelation which invite us to see beyond the surface and behold the glory of God.
In western Christianity, we tend to take a literal approach to scriptural stories. We see the cast of characters in the Nativity as part of a historical record rather than as faith symbols to be de-coded; we can repeat the story but often miss the meaning, getting "hung up" on identifying the animals which may have been present at Jesus' birth or wondering how many magi or kings there really were. None of this really matters. Well-versed in reading icons, Christians from Eastern Christianity would be more comfortable with the symbolic: Angels invite the shepherds to "see"; magi journey out of spiritual darkness into understanding; the star of wonder reveals where the glory of God shines in mere straw. In contrast, Herod represents the forces of evil that attempt to extinguish the Light while the slaughter of the Innocents depicts more of the same. The infancy narratives, then, ask us to open our hearts to the mystery of God's presence in human history. They demand that we fall to our knees in awe and wonder, amazed at the Great Love that is embodied in the human experience.
Jesus' baptism presents yet another epiphany moment, both for Jesus himself and for those who witness the event. John the Baptist's proclamation about Jesus' identity sets revelation in motion. Upon rising from the Jordan, Jesus experiences
such a powerful immersion in God's Spirit that he has to flee to the desert to process all that has happened. The encounter is so profound that to speak of it or to engage in ordinary, everyday activities is impossible; instead, he withdraws into solitude and prayer for 40 days, only emerging to begin his Galilean ministry. In the synoptic gospels, this epiphany is for Jesus' benefit, providing the fullness of Divine affirmation; in John's gospel, John the Baptist testifies that he has witnessed the heavens open and the Spirit descend upon Jesus. He concludes, "Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God" (Jn 1:34).
In each of our lives, there are epiphany moments that awaken us to our spiritual identity, to the presence of the Holy One, and to our mission/calling. Spirit breaks through ordinary consciousness, calling us to the extraordinary, inviting us to abandon "small" goals so that we can use our gifts in service of the Kingdom of God. When such moments happen, we need to take time out to understand what they might mean and to discern how we might best respond; otherwise, we have the experience but miss the meaning!
Try my Spiritual Self-Assessment Tool! After you take the Quiz, you will automatically receive a computer-generated analysis of your strengths and "growing edges." https://assess.coach/eastewart/
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