When we experience the sequential following of something, we often think of it as taking a “journey” from point A to point B. From a liturgical point of view, the Christmas season began with the first Sunday of Advent and ended with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. (Matthew 3:13-17.) In truth, it has been quite a journey.
Why do I say that? Because if we look at the Sunday Gospels during that period, we can see a series of steps that result ultimately in beginning to understand the purpose of Jesus in this world.
The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent spoke about “being prepared” for the coming of Jesus. On the second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist indicated (no doubt as part of the preparation) the necessity of penance and Baptism. John the Baptist is again a key figure in the Gospel for the third Sunday of Advent. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus who he is. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replies by recounting his miracles of healing.
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, Joseph has a “dream revelation” to take Mary as his wife, for her pregnancy was caused by the Holy Spirit (the “creative power” of God.) And the child is to be named “Jesus,” which has the Hebrew root of “save.” The Gospels in the Masses for Christmas spoke of Jesus’ geneaology. Ancestors of Jesus were Abraham and David, crucial figures in Jewish history. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, David’s home town. Also, Jesus was the Word of God, for God’s word has power (Isaiah 55:10-11).
For the feast of the Holy Family, Joseph had two “dream revelations.” He is to take Jesus and Mary into Egypt, and later he is to take them out of Egypt. For Epiphany, Jesus “manifests himself” to outsiders, non-Jews (the Magi). It is clear that Jesus came to be of service to everyone. The baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, with the appproving presence of the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove) and the affirming voice of God the Father remind us of our own Baptism which is the context for Immanuel (Hebrew for “God with us.”)
Now, what does this looking at and reflecting upon the Gospels mean for us? Several things. First, we must prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus, however he comes, particularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Secondly, in order to appeciate Jesus’ presence with us we must know more about him. Studying the Gospels would be a good way. Thirdly, be especially conscious of the active presence of the Holy Spirit with us. As the “creative power” of God, the Holy Spirit can help us confront challenges to our faith. Fourthly, we must “manifest” Jesus to others through our example. This would be especially true regarding the marginalized of society, those considered “outsiders.”
Finally, we must consider the significance of two key themes of the Christmas season: Immanuel and Epiphany. “Immanuel” because God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has promised to be with us. ” “Epiphany” because we have to manifest Jesus to others by our example, especially to those marginalized by society. Baptism not only makes this possibe but also probable. Now, following this path will make quite a journey.