13 January 1989
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
This Sunday is devoted to the memory of the preaching of Saint John the Baptist; Saint John the Baptist, because on Wednesday we keep the feast of the Baptism of Christ.
The Baptism of Christ is a great event; so great that Saint John Chrysostome could have said that Christmas, the Nativity of Christ is like the dawn of a day, while Epiphany, the day of the Baptism of Christ is like the full light of midday.
How could that be? Because on Christmas, on the day of the Nativity God gives His Son, His Only-Begotten Son to the world, but in His humanity the Son of God is still a frail child; He is given like a victim is brought to the slaughter; He comes into the world like every child comes: frail, vulnerable and, humanely speaking, unaware of what happens to it. Then, years pass; this Child, as Saint Luke puts it, grows in stature and in wisdom; and on the day of His Baptism in the waters of Jordan, it is the Man Jesus Christ, that is God incarnate, but in all His humanity, that He takes upon Himself the mission which God gave His (?) as the Son of God. And that day, the Man Jesus Christ – and I am using the words of Saint Paul – takes upon Himself, in an act of personal choice, of personal will, the Cross, His mission on earth, His function as the salvation of the world.
And so, we are confronted with a day, when Jesus of Hazareth, no longer in His Divinity, but in His very humanity, takes upon Himself the divine mission of salvation.
This is also o u r vocation; we also must, s o m e t i m e in our life, and that probably more than once, progressively, step by step, do what Christ had done: take upon ourselves, in our humanity, however frail, however sinful – take upon ourselves to be Christ's own people; not the salvation of the world indeed, but people whom Christ integrates to Himself, people who become His own, and people whom He can s e n d into the world with a mission to proclaim that salvation has come, and that e v e r y o n e who chooses to receive it, can receive it freely – provided that with an open heart, a determined will he becomes Christ's own.
And Saint John the Baptist calls us to make smooth the ways of God: to make smooth the way of God into our heart, into our mind, into our will, into all our being, including our bodies and flesh. And this is something which we can receive as a calling, but which we must d o ourselves^ indeed, with the help of God – but it is for us to do it.
Should we not, between this Sunday and the Feast of Epiphany reflect on our own position, and ask ourselves: how much (?) how much do I want, how much have I of courage, of faith, of devotion and faithfulness to God to respond to Saint John the Baptist's call? We must prepare ourselves for the Feast, because it is a feast in which Christ the man gives Himself to us to be crucified that we may live, to die that we may live: what is our response?
We keep today also the memory of Saint Seraphim; you all know his life – there is no point to remind you of it – but here is a man who responded; a man like everyone, born in a lower middle class family of provincial Russia, taught by an indifferent priest – just the parish priest of his parish, but who could hear, who listened and heard, who responded with mind and heart, and who, as he grew, became a man in whom the w i l l to follow Christ, the w i l l to respond to Him became unshakeable, and all his life became a testimony of it.
Let us learn from the words of Saint John the Baptist, and let us learn from the life of Saint Seraphim something that can teach us to receive, to respond and to act according to God's call and to the faith which we proclaim; and God w i l l be with us, it will not be by our own strength that we will achieve it; but unless we offer ourselves to God, God does not take us by force: freedom, the freedom of the Gospel, the freedom of love, mutual, total on the part of God, and, I hope, growing in each of us. Amen.