Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Theme: Denho - Epiphany - Baptism of Our Lord

Volume 4 No. 187 January 2, 2014

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Epiphany-ICON - The Baptism of our Lord
Epiphany-ICON

In this icon of the Baptism, Christ receives baptism at the hands of John the Baptist, the last of the prophets of the old Covenant. Here, the Old and New Covenants meet in the water of the Jordan- the old baptism for repentance of sins, and the lasting baptismal rebirth of water and the spirit, as brought by Jesus in the New Covenant (Lk 3:16). For this reason, the bottom of this icon depicts symbols of the initiation Sacraments of the Christian Church- Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist.

On either side are representations of confirmation of the Holy Spirit in purifying water: the Spirit of God hovering over the waters in creation (Gen 1:2), and the traditional "Blessing of the Waters" with the Cross in the Epiphany liturgy.

In this icon of the Baptism, Christ is stripped of His eternal robe of glory and naked, is robed in the waters of the Jordan which itself shines forth with the beams of His glory and light. Here, He is clothed in our humanity, that we, in our baptism, might be clothed in His eternity.

The symbol of the sun and the moon represent the cosmic light that Christ brings on his Feast of Epiphany.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Foreword

2. Bible Readings for This Sunday (January 5)

Bible Readings For Second Sunday after Yeldo (Christmas)

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_2nd_sunday_after_yeldo.htm

3. Sermons for This Sunday (January 5)

Sermons for the Second Sunday After Yeldo

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_2nd-sunday-after-christmas.htm

4. Bible Readings for Denho Feast (January 6)

Bible Readings for Denho Feast

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_Denho.htm

5. Sermons for Denho Feast (January 6)

Sermons for Denho Feast (Baptism of Our Lord)

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_denaha.htm

6. Inspiration for Today: In Search of Snails

There is an old legend of a swan and a crane. A beautiful swan alighted by the banks of the water in which a crane was wading about, seeking snails. For a few moments the crane viewed the swan in stupid wonder and then inquired. ...

7. Story of Joseph - Chapter 7: Do You Want to Be Set Free?

After a week's interruption for the Christmas Specials, we are resuming the 'Story of Joseph' from Old Testament. For those following the story with us, you know how wonderful and informative this series is. When we left the series last time, Joseph was the Prime Minister of Egypt, the second only to Pharaoh. His brothers have come to Egypt to procure food. They didn't recognize Joseph - They thought that their brother was dead. Now they face the reality. This week, we look at the story from the perspective of setting ourselves free from past mistakes - sin. We will cover the 3 phases involved, viz.,  Confession, repentance and reconciliation. Read on. ...

8. Family Special: Grace for Families in 2014

Part of my job includes receiving letters from readers about family issues. Something that struck me this past year was how many Christian families suffer - truly suffer. Some struggle from financial woes, others from the behavior of rebellious teenagers, and some from painful relational problems within their marriages.

While I can't offer quick fixes in this small devotional entry, I want to reflect on some scriptures here that will hopefully offer you some encouragement if you are among those facing a difficult family situation. ...

9. Feast of The Baptism of The Lord by Pope Benedict XVI

The Baptism of Jesus, which we are commemorating today, fits into this logic of humility and solidarity: it is the action of the One who wanted to make himself one of us in everything and who truly joined the line of sinners; he, who knew no sin, let himself be treated as a sinner (cf. 2 Cor 5:21), to take upon his shoulders the burden of the sin of all humanity, including our own sin. He is the "servant" of Yahweh of whom the Prophet Isaiah spoke in the First Reading (cf. 42:1). His humility is dictated by the desire to establish full communion with humanity, by the desire to bring about true solidarity with man and with his human condition.  ...

10. Jesus, the Beginning of the New Creation: The Bible Readings for the Baptism of the Lord

Jesus is the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament expectation: the new Isaac, the new David, the manifestation of the Isaianic Servant. But especially in today's reading, he is the manifestation of the New Creation.

Through baptism we have truly been incorporated into a New Creation, a new life and way of existence. However, it takes faith to experience this. If we do not believe the truth of what has happened in our baptism, the reality remains true, but we do not experience the fruits of that reality. In our prayer this day, let's meditate on the reality of the gift of the Spirit which renewed each one of us in the sacrament. If necessary, let's renew the sacrament of Baptism by going to Confession before this upcoming feast day. And finally, let's remember that the New Creation is the world to come, the fullness of life we will experience after the death of this earthly body. If we still are living day by day for pleasure - for money, sex, and power - we are actively undoing what Christ has done for us in baptism. ...

11. Why Did Jesus Insist on Being Baptized?

If baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, why did Jesus insist on being baptized by his cousin, John? And if baptism, as St. Peter wrote, "now saves you … through the resurrection of Jesus Christ", why would the Messiah deem it appropriate, even necessary, to be baptized? What, was the point of the Lord's baptism in the Jordan River?

These and related questions fascinated and perplexed many of the early Church fathers and theologians. "The baptism of Christ," writes Fr. Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B., "was widely discussed in all the currents of theological reflection" in the early Church, "without doubt partly because of the problems it posed." From this discussion emerged many helpful theological insights. ...

12. A Reflection on the Baptism of the Lord

Today's feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a moment to reflect not only on the Lord's baptism, but also on our own. For in an extended sense, when Christ is baptized, so are we, for we are members of his body. As Christ enters the water, he makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water and we follow. And in these waters he acquires gifts to give us, as we shall see below. ...

13. From MWJ Archives: MW Journal Issue 118 on Denho

For an exhaustive look at the Baptism of our Lord, please read the Malankara World Journal Issue 118. You can find it here:

Malankara World Journal Issue 118 - Baptism of Our Lord

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_118.htm

14. Health: Ask the Harvard Experts - Take Steps Now to Prevent Losing Height Later

Q: I'm 68 years old. I used to be 5-foot-6-inches tall. I just visited my doctor and my height was just over 5-foot-4. Will I continue to shrink? What can I do to help stop it? ...

15. Recipe: Hearty Seafood Stew

This hearty stew will leave your guests satisfied and delighted. ...

16. About Malankara World

Foreword
We have already passed the busy Christmas and the New Year Day. What is not apparent is that several important feasts related to Christmas has already passed without our attention. The Christmas Season officially ends on January 6 when we celebrate Epiphany. Our church also celebrates the Denho (The Baptism of our Lord) on January 6. Epiphany falls on the 12 days following Christmas. If you recall the popular song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas", it refers to the countdown beginning with the Christmas Day to Epiphany.

Let us look at the feast related to Christmas in Our Church:

Table 1 : Christmas Timeline

December 25 - Christmas Day

December 26 - Glorification of St. Mary

December 27 - Massacre of Infants/Innocents

January 1 - Circumcision of the Lord

January 6 - Epiphany/Denho

January 7 - St. John the Baptist

January 8 - St. Stephen

February 2 - Ma'altho - Presentation of the Child (Purification Rite)

To simplify this, let us remove the feasts of St. John and the St. Stephen Martyrdom from the mix as they really have nothing to do with the Christmas, per se.

Table 2 : Modified Christmas Timeline

December 25 - Christmas Day

December 26 - Glorification of St. Mary

December 27 - Massacre of Infants/Innocents

January 1 - Circumcision of the Lord

January 6 - Epiphany/Denho

February 2 - Ma'altho - Presentation of the Child (Purification Rite)

The Circumcision takes place on the 8th day after birth. This is also the day when they name the child. So, it rightly belongs on January 1

The Presentation of the Child (Purification Rite) takes place on the 40th day after birth. That falls on February 2.

Let us take another look at the timeline based on the actual date of the event in Jesus' life.

Table 3 : Actual Events and Timeline in The Life of Jesus

December 25 - Christmas Day - Jesus was born

January 1 - the Feast of the Circumcision and the giving of the Lord’s Name.

February 2 - Ma'altho - Presentation of the Child (Purification Rite) (40 days after Christmas)

Epiphany - arrival of Magi - about 2 years after Christmas

Holy Family Flees to Egypt - a day or so after the arrival of Magi (on instruction of the angel)

Massacre of Infants - perhaps a week or so after epiphany or arrival of Magi

Finding of Jesus in the Temple - 12 years after Christmas

Baptism of the Lord (Denho) - about 30 years after Christmas

Epiphany is a very important feast of the Church and completes the the 12th day of the Christmas feast. It had been celebrated on January 6th going back to the 4th Century.

Catholic Church celebrates Denho a week after epiphany. Our church celebrate both feasts together on January 6.

The massacre of infants should be celebrated after January 6 (Epiphany - arrival of the Magi.) It makes no sense to celebrate it on December 27. This will pull it out of the busy Christmas-New Years week and provides us an opportunity to celebrate it properly.

I know tradition plays a big role in setting these days. It may be a good idea to revisit some of these dates so that they all don't get lost in the busy Christmas Season.

We will be releasing a special issue of Malankara World Journal to honor His Eminence Yeldo Mor Theethose, Archbishop and Patriarchal Vicar of the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America, when the Archdiocese celebrates the tenth anniversary of the Ordination of Thirumeni on January 4th. The special issue (Issue 188) will be released on January 3/4.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (January 5)

Bible Reading For Second Sunday after Yeldo (Christmas)

Sermons for This Sunday (January 5)

Denho Feast (Baptism of Our Lord (Jan 6)

Bible Readings for Denho Feast (January 6)

Denho - Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ (6th January)

This festival is called Danaha in Syriac meaning 'Dawn'.
Also called Epiphany or Theophany.

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Blessing of the Water

Sermons for Denho Feast (January 6)
This Week's Features

Inspiration for Today: In Search of Snails
There is an old legend of a swan and a crane. A beautiful swan alighted by the banks of the water in which a crane was wading about, seeking snails. For a few moments the crane viewed the swan in stupid wonder and then inquired:

"Where do you come from?"

"I come from heaven!" replied the swan.

"And where is heaven?" asked the crane.

"Heaven!" said the swan, "Heaven! have you never heard of heaven?"

And the beautiful bird went on to describe the grandeur of the Eternal City. She told of streets of gold, and the gates and walls made of precious stones; of the river of life, pure as crystal, upon whose banks is the tree whose leaves shall be for the healing of the nations. In eloquent terms the swan sought to describe the hosts who live in the other world, but without arousing the slightest interest on the part of the crane.

Finally, the crane asked: "Are there any snails there?"

"Snails!" repeated the swan. "No! Of course there are not."

"Then," said the crane, as it continued its search along the slimy banks of the pool, "you can have your heaven. I want snails!"

This fable has a deep truth underlying it. How many a young person, to whom God has granted the advantages of a Christian home, has turned his back upon it and searched for "snails"? How many a man will sacrifice his wife, his family, his all, for the "snails" of sin! How many a girl has deliberately turned from the love of parents and home to learn too late that heaven has been forfeited -- for "snails"!

Source: D. L. Moody (Moody's Anecdotes)

Story of Joseph - Chapter 7: Do You Want to Be Set Free?

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

[Editor's Note: After a week's interruption for the Christmas Specials, we are resuming the 'Story of Joseph' from Old Testament. For those following the story with us, you know how wonderful and informative this series is. When we left the series last time, Joseph was the Prime Minister of Egypt, the second only to Pharaoh. His brothers have come to Egypt to procure food. They didn't recognize Joseph - They thought that their brother was dead. Now they face the reality. This week, we look at the story from the perspective of setting ourselves free from past mistakes - sin. We will cover the 3 phases involved, viz.,  Confession, repentance and reconciliation. Read on. ... ]

Scripture: Genesis 44-45

In this series on the life of Joseph we are looking at nine crucial questions that every person must answer. So far we have looked at these five questions:

Do you know why you were born?
Do you know who you are?
Are you willing to wait for God?
How big is your God?
Are you willing to face your past?

And now we come to a question that probes at a very deep level:

Do you want to be set free?

The hardest truth you'll ever face is the truth about yourself. Most of us do whatever we can to keep from facing hard truth about ourselves. It's always easier to pretend and play games. It's never easy to come to grips with your failures.

Truth rightly told ultimately leads me to God who is Truth. God does not lie, and no liar can stay in his presence (Revelation 21:8). Since that verse in Revelation speaks of liars going to the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, the stakes are high indeed.

After being in the ministry for almost 40 years, I have concluded that the first step in solving personal problems is having the courage to tell the truth. The people who dare to tell the truth about themselves are the people who begin to get better.

Is it painful? You bet!
Is it scary? Of course!
Is it easy? No way!

But those people who swallow their fear, endure the pain, and decide to take the hard road of truth are the ones who get better. I have seen marriages saved by truth-telling, and I have seen marriages crumble because of inner deception.

A friend came to see me with a serious personal problem. He didn't cover up the truth, and he didn't try to blame anyone else for his own stupidity. He simply and honestly told the truth. When our session was over, I said to him, "You are 90% of the way home. The hardest part was deciding to tell the truth. It's going to get better from here."

Why We Don't Get Better

I learned this truth when I visited a Christian counselor during a hard time in my life. A few days after meeting with him, I received a packet of material in the mail. On one of the sheets he had done a take-off on the words of Jesus in John 8:32, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The counselor had added a phrase:

"The truth will make you free . . . but it will hurt you first."

When I read that, a light when on in my head. I saw myself in a brand-new way. I wasn't getting better because I didn't want the truth to hurt me first. It was easier to avoid the truth because the truth about my own life was too painful to bear.

In a flash I realized why most people have trouble growing spiritually. It's not because we don't know the truth. My soul, we've got so much truth it's running out our eyeballs. We hear the truth at church, on the radio, on the Internet, from our friends, from books and CDs and seminars and concerts. And we get it straight from the Bible. But the problem runs deeper than that. We know the truth but we don't want to let it hurt us so we deflect it, ignore it, deny it, attack it, argue with it and in general avoid it in any way we can. Our approach is like a spaceship being attacked by aliens. We put up the force field so we can deflect the incoming salvos of truth. After a while we get so good at deflection that the truth never gets through to us at all.

And that's why …

We're still angry
We're still stubborn
We're still bitter
We're still greedy
We're still arrogant
We're still filled with lust
We're still self-willed
We're still unkind

When you are finally willing to be hurt by the truth about yourself, you will be set free.

Meanwhile Back in Egypt

When last we left Joseph and his brothers, here was the situation:

A great feast was underway at Joseph's house in Egypt. For the first time in over 20 years, all 12 brothers were together. Genesis 43:34 says, "They drank and were merry with him." Another translation says, "They celebrated and drank freely until everyone was quite relaxed." That means exactly what it sounds like.

Plenty of food, plenty to drink, much to celebrate.
To borrow a phrase, everyone was happy, happy, happy.

But what about Joseph?
The answer is simple.
The brothers all thought he was dead.

Boy, are they in for a big surprise! They are about to be set free from their guilty past, and they don't have a clue that Joseph is behind it all. And behind Joseph stands God who has orchestrated every detail to bring them to this moment.

The truth is about to set them free . . . but it will hurt them first.
Three words tell us how it happened.

#1: Confession

The banquet is over now and it is time for the brothers to go back to Canaan. Before the brothers leave, Joseph has his steward hide a silver cup in the bag belonging to Benjamin. After the brothers leave, he sends the steward to stop them and accuse them of stealing the silver cup. The brothers deny the accusation, with the promise that if any man is found with the silver cup, he will die.

Of course the steward found the cup right where he put it—in Benjamin's bag (Genesis 44:12).

But it was never Joseph's plan to kill Benjamin. He wants to find out if they will abandon Benjamin the way they had so callously abandoned him.

Were they the same men?
Or had they really changed?

No wonder the brothers were terrified. How could this have happened after that happy banquet? What will happen when they come back to Joseph's house in Egypt? Would they be thrown back in jail? Would they be killed?

In every story there comes a moment when the truth must come out. Now the truth comes from the mouth of Judah. Speaking for all the brothers, he admits their guilt:

What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants (Genesis 44:16).

Here at last is what Joseph has been waiting for. Not just an admission of guilt, but an acknowledgment of God.

Years ago a counselor told me something he often said to his clients: "You're only as sick as your secrets." Then he added a second truth to that: "If you've got a lot of secrets, you're really sick." Secrets have a way of festering on the inside until we are soul-sick and don't know why or what to do about it. If you've been hiding some dark part of your past because you can't bear to deal with it, you are sicker than you think. At some point, you've got to come clean if you want to get better.

The brothers have been sick with the guilt of their sin for a long time. Keeping it secret has kept them in bondage to fear for many years.

# 2: Repentance

One final step remains. In Genesis 44:18-34 Judah makes the longest individual speech in the book of Genesis in which he pleads that they be allowed to take Benjamin back home to Canaan. At the end Judah offers himself as a replacement for Benjamin:

Please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers (Genesis 44:33).

This is the loyalty test: Do you love your brother more than yourself? In the old days the brothers would have abandoned Benjamin and left him as a slave in Egypt. But all is changed now.

They will not leave Benjamin in Egypt.
They will not abandon their brother in the hour of his need.
They are a true family now.
Once a team of rivals, now they are a band of brothers.

Grace has done a deep work in them.
They are about to be set free.

# 3: Reconciliation

Joseph doesn't need to hear anything else.
The time has come to reveal his true identity:

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, "Make everyone go out from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence (Genesis 45:1-3).

Dismayed is one word.
Shocked is another.
Dumbfounded and terrified fit too.
You can add confused, astonished and speechless.

It does make you stop and think. What would it take to convince you that someone you thought was dead was actually alive? Especially someone like Joseph.

No Hard Feelings

The last time they saw him was 22 years ago when they sold him to the desert nomads. Now he's the prime minister of Egypt. I think that would give me a case of the hives, the shakes, the shivers, and a good dose of the heebie-jeebies. I don't think I would say anything either.

What exactly could you say in that moment?
"Uh, Joseph, hey brother, no hard feelings, right?"
"It was a just a joke, man."
"We're cool, right?"

Actually, there were no hard feelings. That's the most amazing part of all of this.
No hard feelings.
No recriminations.
No getting even.
No threats.

He completely let his guilty brothers off the hook.
Think about that.

Instead he says five things to his brothers:

1. "Come near to me" (v. 4). I think I would have been in the back of the pack for that one.

2. "I am Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt" (v. 4). He doesn't deny what they did.

3. "Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here" (v. 5). Okay, that's good news.

4. "God sent me before you to preserve life" (v. 5). Wow. That's an amazing perspective. He goes on to explain the years of famine and how God wanted to preserve their family.

5. "Hurry and go up to my father" (v. 9). "Go tell Dad I'm still alive and bring him to Egypt. Move the whole family here. I've got a place picked out."

Tell My Father About My Glory

Then this is very sweet to me:

You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.' And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here. (Genesis 45: 10-13).

Every son wants to know that his father is proud of him. So Joseph says, "Go back and tell my father about all my glory." Even the prime minister of Egypt was just his father's son in the end. After all the pain and sorrow and sadness, and after rising to the pinnacle of human achievement, after becoming the second most powerful man in the world, after all of that, this was # 1 on Joseph's heart:

"Tell my father about all my glory."

Every child wants to know, "Dad, are you proud of me?"

Dads, make sure your kids know the answer to that question.

His first word about his father is "Hurry."
His last word about his father is "Hurry."

Finally comes the moment when Joseph and his brothers reunite:

Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him (Genesis 45:14-15).

Mark that phrase—"all his brothers." This includes Simeon, Reuben, Judah, and all the rest who conspired to kidnap him and sell him as a slave. They were all kissed and wept over by the forgiving Joseph.

What they had done was unforgivable—yet he forgave them.
There is no greater picture in the Bible of the forgiving love of Christ.

It is only "after that" that they talked with him.
His love overcame their shame.
How could they refuse him now?
Thus welcomed by Joseph, they became a family and true brothers for the first time ever.

Facing Their Father

Genesis 45 ends with the brothers going back home and informing aged Jacob who nearly died on the spot:

So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, "Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt." And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived (Genesis 45:25-27).

When they said, "Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt," it sounded incredible. No wonder Jacob nearly had a heart attack. For 22 years he had believed his beloved son was dead. Now he finds out he is basically running the show in Egypt. First it would shock him. Then it would frighten him. Then it would cause him to ask some hard questions:

"What really happened to Joseph?"
"How could you have sold your brother as a slave?"
"Who was behind this?"
"Why did you lie to me?"

All of that raises a question the text doesn't answer. How did the boys manage to explain all of this to their father? "Well, Dad, you see, we, uh, well, we were mad at him, and so we threw him in a pit, but we weren't going to kill him, we were just going to scare him (that wasn't true, but you can imagine the brothers saying something like this), but then along came these traders and they offered to buy him so we sold him, and we're really sorry about that coat of many colors being dipped in blood. We shouldn't have lied to you."

No matter how you spin it, there is no acceptable explanation, nothing that could cover up for their hatred, their envy, their conspiracy and their treachery. Perhaps Jacob was so overjoyed that he was willing to overlook their lying and scheming and all the rest.

The chapter ends with Jacob saying,

"My son Joseph is alive! I must go and see him before I die" (45:28 NLT).

So he does.

In Chapter 46 he moves to Egypt and is reunited with Joseph. He is 130 years old.

In Chapter 47 he meets Pharaoh and the whole family settles in Goshen where they prosper. Jacob lives another 17 years.

In Chapter 48, as he is near death, he calls for his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim and blesses them.

In Chapter 49 Jacob calls for his sons and pronounces a blessing on them. They will become the twelve tribes of Israel. He dies at the age of 147 with his family gathered round him (Genesis 49:28-33).

In Chapter 50 Joseph leads a funeral procession from Egypt to Canaan where he buries his father in the Cave of Machpelah.

Lion of Judah

Thus the sovereign God accomplished his purposes for Jacob, Joseph and for his brothers. For the next four centuries the Jews will live in Egypt, first in prosperity and then as slaves when a Pharaoh arose who did not know about Joseph. In later times a mighty deliverer named Moses will arise to lead the people out of Egypt.

Almost 1800 years later a baby will be born who will be called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). His name is Jesus.

This is how the New Testament begins:

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers
(Matthew 1:1-2).

Note that Joseph (who is the real hero of this story) doesn't get mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. He's simply included as one of the brothers of Judah. If you study Genesis closely, you'll see that Judah's history is checkered to say the least. On one side of the ledger you have the fact that Judah was the one who said, "Let's make some money by selling Joseph to the Midianites." You also have that sordid affair with Tamar in Genesis 38. On the plus side Judah makes the impassioned speech in Genesis 44 pleading that Benjamin not be left behind in Egypt. That was the final proof to Joseph that his brothers had truly repented.

One might think that the Messiah would come from the line of Joseph and not from Judah, but to think that way shows how little we understand the grace of God. Jesus comes from the loins of a very fallible, fallen man who was capable of great cruelty and great compassion. In other words, he's just like most of us.

If we were writing the script, Jesus would come from Joseph.
But when God writes the script, he put Jesus in Judah's family tree.

Now I ask again, how much of all this did Joseph understand when he was thrown into the pit?
Not a bit.
But God knew it all and saw it all.

Joseph was a great man who served a great God. The rest of the story could not unfold until the brothers were set free and the family reunited. God used Joseph to bring about a miracle of healing that would one day result in a Savior being born in Bethlehem.

One final word and I am done. We all need to be set free as Joseph's brothers were set free. The path to freedom is the same for us as it was for them. If we are willing to face the truth about our sin and disobedience, if we are willing to confess and repent of our sins, if we will give up our anger and our excuses, then at last we will be set free to love one another.

So we must ask the question one more time:
Do you want to be set free?

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that we don't have to be perfect to come to you. If we had to be perfect, who among us would qualify? They called you the Friend of Sinners. Thank God it is true. You are the friend and we are the sinners.

Thank you for truth that sets us free!
Teach us to love as you have loved us!

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Family Special: Grace for Families in 2014

by Sarah Phillips

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. - Genesis 2:24

Part of my job includes receiving letters from readers about family issues. Something that struck me this past year was how many Christian families suffer - truly suffer. Some struggle from financial woes, others from the behavior of rebellious teenagers, and some from painful relational problems within their marriages.

While I can't offer quick fixes in this small devotional entry, I want to reflect on some scriptures here that will hopefully offer you some encouragement if you are among those facing a difficult family situation.

The man said, "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Genesis 3:7-12.

First, if you're facing a broken situation or relationship, remember you're not alone. With the fall of man came the fall of family life. We can see this in Adam's dysfunctional words as he blames God and Eve for his own sinful decision to eat the forbidden fruit.

You may compare your family to others and feel like a failure - like everyone else has this family thing figured out. But truthfully, we are all sinners who marry sinners and give birth to sinners. While this truth doesn't excuse a person's hurtful, sinful behavior (God himself is grieved by such behavior), it helps ground me a little more in reality when I find myself playing the comparison game or building up unrealistic expectations of others.

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord." Ephesians 5:8

Second, we're not doomed to this sinful state forever. Becoming Christian doesn't necessarily make family life easier, but it does make healing possible. It is through the sanctifying grace of Jesus Christ that not only can we be transformed as individuals, but our relationships can also be transformed, successfully reflecting the Trinitarian love of God to each other and the world. This is God's desire for every Christian family, not just a privileged few. For as many disheartening letters as I receive from distraught spouses and parents, I receive encouraging letters and articles from those who have found true transformation and healing in Christ. If you are a believer, know that you have profound spiritual support to overcome your family trials.

"Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." Ephesians 5:8-11

Third, transformation requires humility, help and work on our part. This may seem like I am stating the obvious, but sometimes it's helpful to me when a loved one reminds me of basic truths. Just as we didn't instantly become perfect upon our acceptance of Christ, neither will our families. Each day we have choices - choices to choose Christ and accept his grace or to turn our backs. Occasionally we have breakthroughs - giant leaps forward in sanctity - but most of the Christian life consists of small, everyday decisions to seek God and live in his truth.

Sometimes we need help from fellow believers to live successfully as children of the light - even Christ, who needed no help, graciously received help from Simon in carrying his cross (Matthew 27:32). I encourage you to plug into a local support group or check out some of the resources at the end of this devotional if your family is hitting particularly dark days.

"My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." Matthew 26:42

Fourth, God grieves with us. He doesn't rejoice in our pain or sit back and watch indifferently. Whatever trial you're facing, he is there, wanting the very best outcome even if sometimes we don't feel his presence or understand why things are going the direction they are going. When I find myself questioning God's loving presence, I reflect on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where he accepted the painful cup of sacrifice out of profound love for you and me.

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10

Fifth, while being Christian means embracing our crosses, it doesn't mean we'll never know joy or peace in our lives or families. There is hope. My prayer for you is that you will have renewed strength, happiness, and faith within your families in 2014.

Intersecting Faith & Life:

Sometimes it's easy to get overwhelmed by our situations, and we forget to remember the positive. List at least one good trait in each family member and reflect on these positives during your quiet time.

Further Reading

The Power of Rewriting Your Story -- Dr. David Hawkins

Resources:

The Marriage Recovery Center
Retrouvaille
Love Path 911
Heartlight Ministries (for parents with struggling teens)

Source: Crosswalk.com - The Devotional

Feast of The Baptism of The Lord

by Pope Benedict XVI

I am glad to offer a cordial welcome, especially to you, the parents and godparents of the 21 infants to whom, in a little while, I shall have the joy of administrating the sacrament of Baptism. Now a tradition, this year too the Rite is taking place during the Holy Eucharistic Celebration with which we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. It is the Feast which, on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, concludes the Christmas Season with the Lord's manifestation at the River Jordan.

According to the account of the Evangelist Matthew (3:13-17), Jesus came from Galilee to the River Jordan to be baptized by John; indeed people were flocking from all over Palestine to hear the preaching of this great Prophet and the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God and to receive Baptism, that is, to submit to that sign of penance which calls for conversion from sin.

Although it was called "Baptism" it did not have the sacramental value of the rite we are celebrating today; as you well know, it was actually with his death and Resurrection that Jesus instituted the sacraments and caused the Church to be born. What John administered was a penitential act, a gesture of humility to God that invited a new beginning: by immersing themselves in the water, penitents recognized that they had sinned, begged God for purification from their sins and were asked to change wrong behavior, dying in the water, as it were, and rising from it to new life.

For this reason, when John the Baptist saw Jesus who had come to be baptized queuing with sinners he was amazed; recognizing him as the Messiah, the Holy One of God, the One who is without sin, John expressed his consternation: he, the Baptist, would himself have liked to be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus urged him not to put up any resistance, to agree to do this act, to do what is fitting "to fulfil all righteousness".

With these words Jesus showed that he had come into the world to do the will of the One who had sent him, to carry out all that the Father would ask of him. It was in order to obey the Father that he accepted to be made man. This act reveals, first of all, who Jesus is: he is the Son of God, true God as the Father; he is the One who "humbled himself" to make himself one of us, the One who was made man and who accepted to humble himself unto death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:7).

The Baptism of Jesus, which we are commemorating today, fits into this logic of humility and solidarity: it is the action of the One who wanted to make himself one of us in everything and who truly joined the line of sinners; he, who knew no sin, let himself be treated as a sinner (cf. 2 Cor 5:21), to take upon his shoulders the burden of the sin of all humanity, including our own sin. He is the "servant" of Yahweh of whom the Prophet Isaiah spoke in the First Reading (cf. 42:1). His humility is dictated by the desire to establish full communion with humanity, by the desire to bring about true solidarity with man and with his human condition.

Jesus' action anticipates the Cross, his acceptance of death for man's sins. This act of abasement, by which Jesus wanted to comply totally with the loving plan of the Father and to conform himself with us, expresses the full harmony of will and intentions that exists between the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. For this act of love, the Spirit of God revealed himself and descended to alight upon Jesus as a dove, and at that moment the love which unites Jesus to the Father was witnessed to all who were present at the Baptism by a voice from Heaven that everyone heard.

The Father reveals openly to human beings, to us, the profound communion that binds him to the Son: the voice that resounds from on high testifies that Jesus is obedient to the Father in all things and that this obedience is an expression of the love that unites them to each other.

Therefore the Father delights in Jesus, for he recognizes in the Son's behaviour the wish to obey his will in all things: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17). And these words of the Father also allude, in advance, to the victory of the Resurrection and tell us how we must live in order to please the Father, by behaving like Jesus.

Dear parents, the Baptism, that you are asking for your children today, inserts them into this exchange of reciprocal love that is in God between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; through this act that I am about to carry out, God's love is poured out upon them, showering them with his gifts. Your children, cleansed by the water, are inserted into the very life of Jesus who died on the Cross to free us from sin and in rising, conquered death.

Therefore, spiritually immersed in his death and Resurrection they are set free from original sin and the life of grace is born within them, which is the very life of the Risen Jesus. He "gave himself for us", St Paul says, "to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds" (Tit 2:14).

Dear friends, in giving us faith, the Lord has given us what is most precious in life, that is, the truest and most beautiful reason for living: it is through grace that we have believed in God, that we have known his love with which he wants to save us and to deliver us from evil. Faith is the great gift with which he also gives us eternal life, true life. Now, dear parents and godparents, you are asking the Church to receive these children within her, to give them Baptism; and you are making this request by virtue of the gift of faith that you yourselves, in turn, have received.

Together with the Prophet Isaiah every Christian can say: "The Lord… formed me from the womb to be his servant" (cf. 49:5); thus, dear parents, your children are a precious gift of the Lord, who has kept their hearts for himself in order to fill them with his love. Today, through the sacrament of Baptism, he consecrates them and calls them to follow Jesus, through the realization of their personal vocation in accordance with that particular plan of love that the Father has in mind for each one of them; the destination of this earthly pilgrimage will be full communion with him in eternal happiness.

In receiving Baptism these children obtain as a gift an indelible spiritual seal, the "character" that inwardly marks their belonging to the Lord for ever and makes them living members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church. While they become part of the People of God, today a journey begins for these children which must be a journey of holiness and of conformation to Jesus, a reality that is placed within them like the seed of a splendid tree whose growth must be nurtured.

Therefore, understanding the greatness of this gift, from the earliest centuries care has been taken to give Baptism to newborn infants. Of course, later there will be the need for a free and conscious adherence to this life of faith and love. For this reason, after Baptism they must be educated in the faith, instructed in accordance with the wisdom of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church so that this seed of faith that they are receiving today may grow within them and that they may attain full Christian maturity. The Church, which welcomes them among her children must take charge of them, together with their parents and godparents, to accompany them on this journey of growth.

Collaboration between the Christian community and the family is especially necessary in the contemporary social context in which the family institution is threatened on many sides and finds itself having to face numerous difficulties in its role of raising children in the faith. The lack of stable cultural references and the rapid transformation to which society is constantly subjected, truly make the commitment to bring them up arduous. Parishes must therefore do their utmost increasingly to sustain families, small domestic churches, in their task of passing on the faith.

Dear parents, together with you I thank the Lord for the gift of the Baptism of your little sons and daughters; in raising our prayers for them, let us invoke in abundance the gift of the Holy Spirit, who today consecrates them in the image of Christ the Priest, King and Prophet. As I entrust them to the motherly intercession of Mary Most Holy, let us ask for life and health for them, so that they may grow and mature in the faith and with their lives bear fruits of holiness and of love. Amen!

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Source: Homily Given at Sistine Chapel on Sunday, 9 January 2011

Jesus, the Beginning of the New Creation:
The Bible Readings for the Baptism of the Lord

by John Bergsma

The end of the Season of Christmas arrives on Denho, as we celebrate the event that marked the end of Jesus' early life and the beginning of his public ministry: the Baptism.

The Christmas decorations coming down in our churches and homes inevitably leaves a feeling of sadness and nostalgia. We don't want to move on from meditation on all the joyful aspects of Our Lord's early life, the incidents of wonder and mystery, like the angels singing to the shepherds, or the visit of the Magi. Nonetheless, as we leave the Christmas Season behind, today's readings remind us of the power of the Holy Spirit that we share with Jesus! The very Spirit of God has been given us in our own baptisms - this Spirit has ushered us into a new world, a New Creation in which we can daily walk with God, just like Adam and Eve once walked with God in the cool of the garden.

So we will look for "New Creation" themes as we work through this day's Readings.

Old Testament

1. The First Reading is Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11. This very famous passage is the introduction to the second part of the Book of Isaiah (40-66), a section of Isaiah which, since ancient times, was regarded as one continuous description of the "latter days," that is, the coming era of peace and restoration marked by the arrival of God's "Servant," who would later be referred to as "the Messiah," literally, "the one smeared with oil" (i.e. anointed).

When asked about his identity in the Gospels, John the Baptist identifies himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah 40. Since Isaiah 40 is the "introduction" to the "latter days" in the Book of Isaiah, we may say that John the Baptist identifies himself as a kind of "Introduction Incarnate," a "Prologue in a Person" or "Foreword in the Flesh."

We comment on each section of this beautiful prophecy:

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.

These verses mark the transition in the Book of Isaiah from a primary emphasis on condemnation of Israel for past sins (Isaiah 1-39) to a primary emphasis on hope for restoration in the future (Isaiah 40-66). The hope for restoration is largely dependent on a mysterious figure the prophet refers to as "the Servant," and describes extensively in passages found in chs. 42, 44, 49, 50, 52-53, and 61. The identity of the servant is enigmatic. As we can see in Acts 8:34, ancient readers were confused as to who he was. In modern scholarship, debates continue to rage on this subject. Followers of Jesus, however, are convinced that Isaiah's "Servant" is Jesus Christ.

The message of these verses is that the punishment on Israel (represented here by her capital, Jerusalem) has been sufficient. Now is the time for restoration and forgiveness. So the arrival of Jesus in public marks the end of condemnation of sin (in the ministry of John the Baptist) and the beginning of the forgiveness of sin and healing (in the ministry of Jesus).

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Who is this voice crying out? The prophecy does not tell us, but John the Baptist identifies it as himself. The message of the "voice" employs the imagery of ancient highway-building for the visit of a king or emperor to the distant parts of his empire. Workers (essentially slaves) would be employed to level the road (valleys filled in, hills dug down) for the king's highway. In this text, however, the coming King is the LORD himself.

In the Gospels, it becomes clear that we are not talking about a physical highway. The "highway of God" is Jesus: "I am the Way, the truth, the life" John 14:6. The "valleys" that need to be raised are the "poor in spirit," who may despair of their salvation because they are overly aware of their sins (see Luke 18:13). These people need to be raised up to hope for salvation. The "mountains" are the proud, who need to be humbled before they can be saved (see Luke 18:11-14). These themes are prominent also in the Blessed Mother's Magnificat (Luke 1:52-53).

Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by a strong arm;
here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.

Here, a herald identified only as "Zion" and "Jerusalem" is commanded to announce to the people of God that their LORD has arrived to be their shepherd.

The promise of the LORD being a good shepherd is closely related to some other important Old Testament texts: Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34. The accounts of the Feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6 and John 6 draw heavily on imagery from these two passages. Jesus shows himself to be the Good Shepherd by feeding the tribes of Israel on the mountain heights with good pasture until they are fully satisfied. But the Feeding of the 5000 is really an anticipation of the Eucharist. We experience Jesus "feeding his flock" every time we receive his Body and Blood.

This theme of announcing the arrival of the LORD is, of course, strongly related to the Gospel Reading, because the Baptism was the public debut of Our Lord's ministry and message. With the descent of the Holy Spirit, we see that Jesus is God in our very presence.

Psalm 104:

2. The Responsorial consists of selections from Psalm 104:

R. (1) O bless the Lord, my soul.
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
you are clothed with majesty and glory,
robed in light as with a cloak.
You have spread out the heavens like a tent-cloth;
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.
You have constructed your palace upon the waters.
You make the clouds your chariot;
you travel on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers,
and flaming fire your ministers.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.
How manifold are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you have wrought them all -
the earth is full of your creatures;
the sea also, great and wide,
in which are schools without number
of living things both small and great.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.
They look to you to give them food in due time.
When you give it to them, they gather it;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.
If you take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.

We want to note here the strong creation imagery of the Psalm. The Cosmos is described as God's "palace" which he has constructed "upon the waters" with the help of the "wind" ("wind" and "Spirit" are the same word in Hebrew, ruach (or "ruha as we say in Malayalam - ed.) under the outspread "tent-cloth" of the heavens. The "waters," the "Spirit," and the "heavens" will recur in the Baptism account.

This Psalm praises God as the creator of the heavens and the earth. The principle of creation is summarized at the end: "When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth."

This Psalm helps us to understand the Baptism as a great manifestation of a New Creation. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the first creation in Genesis 1:2, and then brought forth the dry land, so in the Gospel reading the Spirit will descend on the waters and Jesus will emerge. Jesus is the New Creation. He brings us into a whole new existence. We don't really start to live until we know Him. So St. Paul says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation!" (2 Cor 5:17).

At each of our baptisms, we are created anew. We come to baptism in the darkness and non-existence of sin, in a state of privation where we lack the Spirit of God which alone truly gives life. We are submerged in the waters over which the Spirit hovers, and emerge like the dry land, like Jesus, a truly new creation.

Sleeha (Pauline) Reading

3. The Second Reading is Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Beloved:
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good.

When the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
He saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

This passage is a short homily, if you will, from St. Paul on baptism. The "non existence" we experienced before baptism is characterized by "godless ways and worldly desires" and "lawlessness." It is essentially the relentless and self-destructive pursuit of money, sex, and power that we see all around us. The New Creation is "to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age" because we have become "heirs in hope of eternal life." It is a totally different kind of life from the ground up, because instead of desperately trying to have as much pleasure as possible before we die, we spend our lives in peace preparing for eternity. This is the new life inaugurated by the "bath of rebirth … renewal by the Holy Spirit … richly poured out on us."

Gospel

4. The Gospel is Lk 3:15-16, 21-22:

The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
"I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
"You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased."

Lk 3:15-16, 21-22

The "heaven was opened" may be understood in both a natural and supernatural way: a break in the clouds, but also a new opening of access to the realm of God. The descent of the Spirit "in bodily form like a dove" evokes the image of the Spirit "hovering" - that is, moving back and forth (Heb. hithhalēk) - over the waters of creation in Genesis 1:2. Then the voice of the Father is heard from heaven: "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased." This statement of the Father echoes several important passages of Scripture:

(1) "Abraham, take your son, your beloved son, whom you love …" (Gen 22:2), the introduction to the account of the sacrifice of Isaac, in which Isaac is thrice called the "beloved son" (agapētos) in the Septuagint (LXX) Greek translation of the Old Testament. This allusion shows Jesus as a New Isaac, the beloved Son who will sacrifice himself on the holy mountain out of love for God and for his Father.

(2) "I will declare the decree of the LORD,
He said to me, ‘You are my son
This day I have begotten you" (Psalm 2:7)

The royal coronation hymn of the Davidic kings had this line for the new king to recite as he ascended the throne. It is an affirmation of the Davidic covenant, by which each heir to the throne had the privilege of a filial (sonship) relationship with God: "I will be his father, and he will be my son." This echo implies that Jesus is the Son of David, the heir to throne of Israel. In fact, the baptism comprises the washing and anointing ceremony by which each Son of David marked the beginning of his reign (see 1 Kings 1:38-40; understand that the Gihon was the stream where the new king was washed before being anointed by the priest and prophet). Note that in most of the Gospels, shortly after the Baptism Jesus begins to preach "The Kingdom of God has arrived." Indeed, because he has begun his royal reign.

(3) "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him," (Isa 42:1).

The verbal parallels are inexact, but the thematic parallels with the Baptism and the words of the divine voice from heaven are very clear. This is why Isa 42 is the standard ABC reading in the Lectionary for the Baptism. The parallels between the passages show that Jesus is the mysterious "servant" of Isaiah, who is marked with God's spirit, comes to preach good news to the poor (Isa 61:1-2), and will suffer and die to redeem many (Isa 52:13–53:12).

Jesus is the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament expectation: the new Isaac, the new David, the manifestation of the Isaianic Servant. But especially in today's reading, he is the manifestation of the New Creation.

Through baptism we have truly been incorporated into a New Creation, a new life and way of existence. However, it takes faith to experience this. If we do not believe the truth of what has happened in our baptism, the reality remains true, but we do not experience the fruits of that reality. In our prayer this day, let's meditate on the reality of the gift of the Spirit which renewed each one of us in the sacrament. If necessary, let's renew the sacrament of Baptism by going to Confession before this upcoming feast day. And finally, let's remember that the New Creation is the world to come, the fullness of life we will experience after the death of this earthly body. If we still are living day by day for pleasure - for money, sex, and power - we are actively undoing what Christ has done for us in baptism.

Source: TheSacredPage.com by John Bergsma

Why Did Jesus Insist on Being Baptized?

by Carl E. Olson

If baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, why did Jesus insist on being baptized by his cousin, John? And if baptism, as St. Peter wrote, "now saves you … through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 3:21), why would the Messiah deem it appropriate, even necessary, to be baptized? What, was the point of the Lord's baptism in the Jordan River?

These and related questions fascinated and perplexed many of the early Church fathers and theologians. "The baptism of Christ," writes Fr. Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B., in his study of the topic, The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: The Trinitarian and Cosmic Order of Salvation (The Liturgical Press, 1996), "was widely discussed in all the currents of theological reflection" in the early Church, "without doubt partly because of the problems it posed." From this discussion emerged many helpful theological insights.

St. Justin Martyr (d. 165), one of the first great apologists, addressed the baptism in his Dialogue with Trypho.

He emphasized that the Son had no need to be baptized - just as he had no need to be born, to suffer, or die - but did so in order to reveal himself to mankind; the baptism, in other words, was the messianic manifestation, a sign for the Church first, and then the world.

When Jesus came to the waters, St. Justin wrote, "He was deemed a carpenter," but the proclamation of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove showed him to be far more than a mere worker of wood.

In his famous work, Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus (d. c. 202) focused on the participation of those who believe in Christ in the anointing of the Savior. The connection between the baptism and anointing - itself an essential Messianic concept - is already evident in the New Testament, as presented in the Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38 : "…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power." This same anointing, St. Irenaeus wrote, is given to those who are baptized into Christ.

The Holy Spirit, having descended upon the Son, has become "accustomed in fellowship with Him to dwell in the human race, to rest with human beings, and to dwell in the workmanship of God, working the will of the Father in them, and renewing them from their old habits into the newness of Christ."

Others delved into the mystery and meaning of the Jordan River, which was already, at the time of Christ, the site of many key events in the history of Israel. St. Hippolytus (d. c. 236) referred to "the Grand Jordan"; Origen (d. 254) wrote that just as "no one is good, except the one only God, the Father," likewise "no river is good except the Jordan."

St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. c. 394), in his treatise, On the Baptism of Jesus, wrote,

"For Jordan alone of rivers, receiving in itself the first-fruits of sanctification and benediction, conveyed in its channel to the whole world, as it were from some fount in the type afforded by itself, the grace of Baptism."

Just as Joshua had entered the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan, Jesus opened the way to heaven by entering and dividing the same waters.

St. Ephrem (d. 373) wrote a beautiful hymn in which he connected the baptism of Jesus with the womb of Mary and the sacrament of the Eucharist:

"See, Fire and Spirit in the womb that bore you!
See, Fire and Spirit in the river where you were baptized!
Fire and Spirit in our Baptism; in the Bread and the Cup, Fire and Holy Spirit!"

Christ, the Light of the World, dwelt first in the womb of the Virgin - who was thus "baptized" by her Son - and then in the womb of the Jordan; he emerged from both as the Incarnate Word, the Savior of mankind. Those who are baptized thus become the children of Mary and partakers of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of her Son.

Source: Crisis Magazine

A Reflection on the Baptism of the Lord

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

Jesus does not go into the Water alone.
He takes us with Him.
A reflection on the Baptism of the Lord

Today's feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a moment to reflect not only on the Lord's baptism, but also on our own. For in an extended sense, when Christ is baptized, so are we, for we are members of his body. As Christ enters the water, he makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water and we follow. And in these waters he acquires gifts to give us, as we shall see below.

Let's examine this text in three stages:

1. The Fraternity of Baptism

The text says "After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized."

Luke puts the fact of Jesus' baptism in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps he mentions it in passing because he, like many of us, is puzzled about Jesus requesting baptism. Why? John's baptism of repentance presumes the presence of sin. But the scriptures are clear: Jesus had no sin.

1. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15 ).

2. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5)

Jesus identifies with sinners, even if he never sinned. As he comes to the riverside he has no ego concerns. He is not embarrassed or ashamed that some might think him a sinner even though he was not. It is a remarkable humiliation he accepts to be found in the company of sinners like us, and even to be seen as one of us. He freely enters the waters and, to any outsider who knew him not, he would simply be numbered among the sinners, which he was not.

Consider how amazing this is. The Scripture says He is not ashamed to call us his Brethren (Heb 2:11). It also says God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

Jesus ate with sinners to the scandal of many of the religious leaders: "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!" (Lk 15:2). Jesus was known as a friend of sinners, had pity on the woman caught in adultery, allowed a sinful woman to touch him and anoint his feet. He cast out demons and fought for sinners. He suffered and died for sinners in the way reserved for the worst criminals. He was crucified between two thieves and He was assigned a grave among the wicked (Is 53).

Praise God, Jesus is not ashamed to be found in our presence and to share a brotherhood with us. There is a great shedding of his glory in doing this. Again, Scripture says, [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself (Phil 1:3)

2. The Foreshadowing of our Baptism

In accepting Baptism, Jesus does not enter the water alone. He takes us with him, for we are members of His Body. He the Head of the Body, goes where the members will follow. St. Maximus says:

I understand the mystery as this. The column of fire went before the sons of Israel through the Red Sea so that they could follow on their brave journey; the column went first through the waters to prepare a path for those who followed……But Christ the Lord does all these things: in the column of fire He went through the sea before the sons of Israel; so now in the column of his body he goes through baptism before the Christian people….At the time of the Exodus the column…made a pathway through the waters; now it strengthens the footsteps of faith in the bath of baptism. (de sancta Epiphania 1.3)

So what God promised in the in the Old Testament by way of prefigurement he now fulfills in Christ. They were delivered from the slavery of Egypt as the column led them through the waters. But more wonderfully, we are delivered from the slavery to sin as the column of Christ's body leads us through the waters of baptism. God's righteousness is his fidelity to his promises. Hence Jesus says, in his baptism and all it signifies (his death and resurrection) he has come to fulfill all righteous and he thus fulfills the promises made by God at the Red Sea and throughout the Old Testament.

3. The Four Gifts of Baptism

The Text says, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

Eph 5:30 says we are members of Christ's body. Thus when Jesus goes into the water we go with him. And in going there he acquires four gifts on our behalf as this text sets them forth. Lets look at the four gifts he acquires on our behalf:

1. Access - the heavens are opened .

The heavens and paradise had been closed to us after Original Sin. But now, at Jesus' baptism, the text says the heavens are opened. Jesus acquires this gift for us. So, at our baptism, the heavens open for us and we have access to the Father and to the heavenly places. Scripture says: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, (Romans 5:1) It also says, For through Jesus we have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:17). Hence the heavens are opened also at our own Baptism and we have access to the Father.

2. Anointing - the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove

Here too, Jesus acquires the Gift of the Holy Spirit for us. In Baptism we are not just washed of sins, but we also become temples of the Holy Spirit. After baptism there is the anointing with chrism which signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit. For adults this is Confirmation. But even for infants, there is an anointing at baptism to recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in the baptized as in a temple. Scripture says, Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)

3. Acknowledgment – You are my beloved Son.

Jesus receives this acknowledgment from his Father for the faith of those who heard, but also to acquire this gift for us. In our own Baptism we become the children of God. Since we become members of Christ's body, we now have the status of sons of God. On the day of your Baptism the heavenly Father acknowledged you as his own dear Child. Scripture says: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:26)

4. Approval – With you I am pleased .

Jesus had always pleased his Father. But now he acquires this gift for you as well. Our own Baptism gives us sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is the grace to be holy and pleasing to God. Scripture says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 1:1-3)

Thus, at his Baptism, Christ acquired these gifts for us so that our own Baptism we could receive them. Consider well the glorious gift of your Baptism. Perhaps you know the exact day. It should be a day as highly celebrated as your birthday. Christ is baptized for our sakes, not his own. All these gifts had always been his. Now, in his baptism he fulfills God's righteousness by going into the water to get them for you. It's alright to say, "Hallelujah!"

Source: Archdiocese of Washington Blog

From MWJ Archives: MW Journal Issue 118 on Denho

For an exhaustive look at the Baptism of our Lord, please read the Malankara World Journal Issue 118. You can find it here:

Malankara World Journal Issue 118 - Baptism of Our Lord

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_118.htm

Health Tip: Ask the Harvard Experts
Take Steps Now to Prevent Losing Height Later

By Howard LeWine, M.D.

Shrinking is inevitable, but your choices will decide how much.

Q: I'm 68 years old. I used to be 5-foot-6-inches tall. I just visited my doctor and my height was just over 5-foot-4. Will I continue to shrink? What can I do to help stop it?

A: Starting at about age 40, people typically lose about half an inch each decade. And the decline usually speeds up after the 70th birthday. So now is a good time for you to be asking this question.

The two main causes of height loss are osteoporosis and bad posture.

As we get older, our bones become less dense and more brittle, and they're more likely to fracture because of osteoporosis.

When a hip or wrist bone weakened by osteoporosis breaks, it's usually the kind of crack we have in mind when we picture a broken bone. But fractures of the bones that make up our spine (vertebrae) are different. Osteoporotic vertebrae get easily crushed. It's like a cardboard box that has had too much weight put on it.

These compression fractures often occur without any known trauma or injury. And usually there are no symptoms. Sometimes there can be a more sudden vertebral collapse. This can be very painful.

All types of vertebral compression fractures result in loss of height. You can decrease the risk of losing more height the same way you prevent or treat osteoporosis. Eat a calcium rich diet and be sure to get enough vitamin D. I recommend 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.

Healthy bones require daily exercise, such as walking and/or weight training. Putting "pressure" stimulates new bone growth and prevents bone loss.

If you haven't had a bone density test yet, it's time to get one. You may need drug therapy for osteoporosis.

Bad posture may be even more of a factor in height loss associated with age. Back muscles, like all muscles, get weaker with age. Ligaments get stretched and muscles get trained to be in a bent-over position. Flabby abdominal muscles don't help.

Some simple "core" exercises can help you stand up straighter. For example, lie on your stomach and then lift your head and shoulders for several seconds. You can either keep your arms by your side or stretch them out like "Superman." Let your head down and then repeat the lift.

Tighter "abs" can help your posture by counteracting tired back muscles. Modified sit-ups (crunches) are a good way to start. Lie flat on your back with knees bent. Support your head with your fingers and raise your head six inches off the floor, concentrating on pushing your lower spine down and tightening the abdominal muscles. Hold and repeat.

(Howard LeWine, M.D., is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass., and Chief Medical Editor of Internet Publishing at Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.)

Source: Ask the Harvard Experts, Jewish World Review

Recipe: Hearty Seafood Stew

by Dr. Shila Mathew, MD., Food and Living Editor, Malankara World

This hearty stew will leave your guests satisfied and delighted.

Ingredients

• 4 Tbsp. olive oil
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped
• 2 large onion diced into 1 in pieces
• 5 tomatoes, diced
• 2 cups white wine
• 3 Tbsp. dried parsley
• 3 Tbsp. dried basil
• 2 tsp. lemon pepper
• 1 tsp. salt
• 12 jumbo prawns peeled and cleaned
• 4 tilapia cut into 2 inch chunks
• 8 oz. of salmon filet cut into 2 inch chunks
• 1 lb. king crab legs separated into small portions
• 1 lb. lobster tail meat cut into 2 inch chunks

Directions:

1. Heat Olive oil. Add chopped garlic, and diced onion cook for 5 minutes.

2. Add diced tomatoes, white wine, parsley, basil salt and lemon pepper.

3. When tomato liquid has come to a full boil, turn down heat and let cook for 10 mins.

4. Add crab, shrimp, lobster, cover with a lid and cook for 5 mins.

5. Add salmon, tilapia and cover with lid for another 5 mins. Do not stir after fish is cooked as it will break up the meat.

Source: Sam's Club

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