By Fr. Glenn Jones:
It’s kind of pleasant going to the grocery store first thing on New Year’s day. Rather than having to hoof it from the hinterlands … well, lookie there—a space right up front. Hardly a creature a’stirring … except a few grumpy, bleary-eyed stockers, and some not-quite-yet-cheery checkers. Hmmm … I wonder if kept up late by fireworks, too. Hmmmm … maybe not that.
Ahh … the new year! … full of promise and expectation! And … heading back out to my trusty mechanical steed, I see at a distance … an angry twenty-something lad in the parking lot with a baseball bat, apparently searching for someone. People call … police come.
(Sigh). And … so it begins.
I couldn’t help but recall that little incident while reviewing the Mass reading for Sunday—the feast of the Epiphany—which came from the prophet Isaiah:
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples…
Indeed, this last year has felt somewhat like “darkness” covering the earth with the clouds of the pandemic covering the people. Not only that, of course, but the accompanying loss of friends, loved ones, in-person schooling for the younglings, employment, etc., not to even mention contentious elections, demonstrations, riots … and on and on … tempting us to cry out with Isaiah: “How long, O Lord?!” Already people are looking back with “2020 hindsight” at what we should have done differently … better … more … less—debate which continue ad infinitum.
And yet our reading from Isaiah continues:
…but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you…
…Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Some like to argue whether Jesus was actually born in this part of the year, which is secondary at very best. What is important is His very coming—the light of the world—and isn’t it so very wonderful that we celebrate Jesus’ birth at the turn of the year—His physical advent ushering in a freshness of hope for the world as a new and ultimate era dawns? That is the message of Isaiah’s analogy: not some inane hope of golden trinkets and languishing lucre, but rather the turning of the world’s page to a new, ultimate and inexhaustibly steadfast hope … the realization of which pierces the darkest of nights.
During the Advent and Christmas seasons, John the Baptist also figures prominently in Mass readings, emphasizing John as being “…he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…’” (Matthew 3:3) … foreshadowing John’s father Zechariah’s echoing Isaiah’s prophecy at John’s birth: “…you, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79) Yet … what did John actually do? He taught … he exhorted … he chastised … and, most of all, he lived the Word before the Word even came to him—teaching others to prepare their own fidelity to God through the “good fruits” of charity—faintly pre-echoing of the teaching of Jesus Himself. Who, after all, can argue against the philosophy/theology of “Love thy neighbor”, or “Love one another”?
And so … what are WE to do in the new year? Sit on our … carcasses? Moan and groan? Whine? Hmmm … how edifying. How very helpful.
Or, rather—whether Christian or no—would it not better—for others and for oneself—to be the light which Jesus taught us to be … to imitate/emulate Him and John the Baptist in teaching, exhorting to, and most of all practicing kindness, patience, tolerance of others. To even (gasp!) treat others as we ourselves would want to be treated. For St. Paul writes: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” (Galatians 5:22-26)
And to those in our fellowship of faith: Remember, O Christian, your dignity. Your hope. Your privilege of being children of God. That, as the Israelites were guided across the wilderness by the pillar of fire, the pillar of God’s Spirit remains undimmed, and continues to light the Way. Our earthly lives are but that journey through the desert as the divine continues to illumine our path to the land flowing with spiritual milk and honey … where “…the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17) So let us not rebel as at Meribah and Massah in the desert (Exodus 17, Psalm 95:8-9), but rather ever raise our eyes Heavenward, knowing that “…not [even one sparrow] is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered…And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God…” (Luke 12:6-8)
“…He spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.’ He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” (Matthew 14:27-33)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.