“I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeons, those who live in darkness.” Isaiah 42: 6-7.
Today we listen to the prophet Isaiah – in a favorite passage. He writes: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water. You who have no money, come receive grain and eat, drink wine and milk.” And later, the prophet goes on to say: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.”
On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we conclude the cycle from Advent, and today we move to the “Ordinary Sundays” of the Church year. Maybe “ordinary” is a strange term for us? For the moment, Christmas is about the incarnation and birth of Christ as the “human face of God” among us. Epiphany is the manifestation of those gifts that engage us in life itself. The Baptism of the Lord is about a specific vision of reconciliation and grace for the work ahead.
Such a celebration prompts us to ask this question: When does the celebration of Christmas begin? When does Christmas end? Is there a special day to put away the Christmas ornaments and remove the Christmas tree and wreaths that adorn our homes? Maybe not a weighty question, but one that inspires my story.
Here is a Christmas Card from my good friend Beverly. It arrived from her home in Connecticut with the postmark of December 1. Bev’s card typically contains original artwork, a simple scriptural quote but always an insert about her past year in her family’s life. Over the many years of our friendship, Bev’s card is among the very first to bring a cheerful Christmas greeting.
More than that, about a decade or more ago, on a July day, I took the train from Boston to join Beverly and another close friend as they were vacationing on the Long Island Sound. We were close to Mystic with its Seaport Museum, Aquarium, and the Olde Mistick Village.
For lunch, we went to the nearby town of Essex and ate at the Tap Room of the Old Griswold Inn. In the travel guide, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” Essex, Connecticut is listed among the 100 Best Small towns and offers “an ideal blend of history, art, shops, restaurants and so much more to explore.” Sounds and looks like Carmel, California, or maybe Pacific Grove? The Griswold Inn bears a remarkable resemblance to the Pine Cone Inn.
For Beverly and those Christmas shoppers in the know, the Griswold Inn is located directly across from the Christmas Barn at Essex, an all-year-around shopping experience devoted to the one day of that yearly celebration. In the middle of July, while most people in this hamlet were either at the beach or on a boat, we went Christmas shopping. Beverly’s card on December 1 is the very first harbinger of Christmas — an angel in my life that announces the good news of Christmas to come, whatever month it may be?
When does the Christmas celebration begin? If we understand the incarnation of God becoming a human person, then it’s an all-year-round and unending event.
I’ve always enjoyed this poem “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman, a Baptist minister who once served in San Francisco. He writes:
“When the song of the angels is stilled when the star in the sky is gone. When the Magi and elders are home. When the shepherds are back with their flock. The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost. To heal the broken. To feed the hungry. To release the prisoner. To rebuild the nations. To bring peace among all peoples. To make music in the heart.”
The Christmas holidays may be over, but now begins Christ’s work, our work. What precisely is this work of Christ?
In the past few days, we have seen the passing of two extraordinary figures. One brought reconciliation and healing to a nation, and another had a certain grace and sparked humor into our lives.
Of course, I’m speaking of Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, whose spiritual gifts healed the broken and released prisoners in the name of “restorative justice.” And, yes, actress Betty White whose twinkle of the eye and comical lines made music in my heart.
Yes, we celebrate reconciliation and grace at Christmas and every day since.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.
“I’m a teenager trapped in an old body.” … “People have told me: Betty, Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with old friends. At my age, if I wanted to keep in touch with old friends, I’d need an Ouija board.”
Betty White 1922-2011
“God gave each of us inherent worth and value; accept it in yourself, discover and encourage it in others, and peace may be just possible. We all long that this may become a reality in our aching world.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu 1931-2021