Vol. 6, No. 18
Daughters of Mary Instruction
10 January 2017
Lynn D. Clapper
This Sunday we leave the excitement of the Advent and Christmas seasons behind us, and enter into Ordinary Time. Not specifically a season of the Church year, Ordinary Time describes the numbered weeks that fall between Epiphany and Lent, Pentecost and Advent, when we enter into the life of Jesus, week by week. Before our eyes, Jesus will grow from an infant Messiah born in the little town of Bethlehem to a man who came to dwell among us as Christ and Lord for all the world. As we mentioned at the beginning of the Advent season, if we are to know Jesus Christ in our own lives, we need to understand how he lived his. We have started at the beginning. We have been with Mary as she accepted the words of an angel that she will bear a son who will be king, and we have been with her as Jesus was born. Let’s walk with her now, as Mary is mother to a man who is God.
On the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, our story begins with the baptism of Jesus. Historically considered part of the Epiphany trilogy that describes the revelation of Jesus as God, Jesus’ request to be baptized by John the Baptist is the opening moment of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Surprisingly, our gospel is not written by Matthew, but by John, a one-time disciple of John the Baptist. Perhaps an eye-witness to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, John’s account records the Baptist’s words of incredulity as Jesus approached him for baptism. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me…’ the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be known to Israel.” While these words might have been proof enough for Matthew’s Jewish audience that Jesus was the prophesized one to come, it is John the Baptist’s next words that tell us who Jesus really is. “I saw the spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whom you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” Matthew tells us words even more explicit. “And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with who I am well pleased’” (Matt 3:17).
We can imagine that even in Jesus’ day, news of this sort would travel quickly, and Mary would have soon received word of Jesus’ baptism. While it is likely that she had long anticipated this moment, we can imagine that her thoughts, as she pondered this news, might have drifted back to the unbelievable events that transpired when he was just a baby.
She might have remembered the night Jesus was born, and the shepherds who burst into Bethlehem to breathlessly proclaim the news that angels had revealed…that this baby, Jesus, was a savior for all the world. She would never forget the wise men from the East who followed a star in search of a newborn king, and once they arrived in Bethlehem, came straight to Jesus, bowed down before him, and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When he was eight days old, Joseph had taken him to be circumcised, and had named him Jesus, as the angel of the Lord had told them their baby would be called.
But, it is what happened nearly six weeks later that stands out in her memories now. As Mosaic Law prescribed, Mary and Joseph had again traveled to Jerusalem, this time to present Jesus in the temple and consecrate him to the Lord. To their surprise, when they arrived, an old, devout man named Simeon, full of the Spirit, met them, took her baby into his arms and blessed God, saying “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people, Israel “(Luke 2: 25-33). Mary and Joseph were amazed by the words of this stranger, but, as Simeon blessed them, he then turned to Mary and said these words to her, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2: 34-36).
You, yourself, a sword will pierce. In the thirty years since that day at the temple, those ominous words had never been far from Mary’s thoughts. Mary and Joseph had taken utmost care to protect Jesus, even traveling to Egypt to flee the murderous edict of the jealous Herod, but they had always felt that Jesus was safe in the protective circle of their little family. The only other incident that had caused them alarm happened when Jesus was twelve years old, and they found him in the temple questioning the teachers after a three-day search. But, Jesus had grown up strong and filled with wisdom, and as the years went by, it was clear to Mary that the favor of God was upon her son.
But, now, Mary and Jesus agreed that his time, at last, had come. Jesus had left their home in Nazareth, and made the journey to find John, who was proclaiming Jesus as the one who was to save Israel. As word of what happened at the River Jordan reached Mary’s ears, that the heavens had opened and the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, that the voice of God, himself, had proclaimed Jesus as his only son, Simeon’s words in the temple so many years ago no longer felt like prophecy. Her son had grown to be a man who must now step out into the world as God.
As we begin to count the weeks of Ordinary Time, we know that there is nothing ordinary about the story of the life of Jesus Christ. His is the story of a man who was God, breathed into life by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of a woman who heeded the words of an angel and became mother of a son who was a savior. His is the story of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph, son of God, who was Christ and Lord for all the people. In the ways of every mother who has watched an infant son grow to become a boy who becomes a man, Mary surrounded Jesus with an ordinary life, always knowing that the proclamations of angels, shepherds, and men both wise and old, promised that her son’s numbered days would be extraordinary for all the world. We cannot think that Simeon’s words to Mary when Jesus was just a baby, that a sword would pierce her heart, did not weigh heavy in her heart all the days of her life. But, as Jesus traveled to meet her cousin’s son, John, who had recognized Jesus before he was even born, who proclaimed Jesus as the one who was to come, who watched Jesus approach and called out to the crowds that came to him for baptism “Behold, the Lamb of God,” we can imagine that Mary was filled with the grace that fills the heart of every mother who understands that her son’s time has come. God’s plan to redeem the entire human race began to unfold before her very eyes. And while the voice from heaven had proclaimed it for all the world to know, the same words echoed in her heart. “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Emmanuel has come. Mary’s infant son is now a man. Let us join him as he walks among us.
New American Bible, Revised Edition