I had the privilege last Sunday of administering the Sacrament of Baptism to an infant, the two-month old son of friends of mine. As the day drew near, I recalled a brief conversation I had had a few years ago with a woman as we were both leaving church oneSunday morning just before New Year’s Day. She said, rather amusingly I thought, that she had resolved, for the coming new year, to give up resolutions themselves – except for one.
And then she explained in a few words of great wisdom: “I am making only one resolution, and that is to try harder than I have tried in my whole life to keep aware of the presence of God wherever I am and whatever I am doing. I think,” she added, “that that will cover everything else.”
The clever, intriguing story that carries the Spirit’s message for us today, the commemoration of the Epiphany of Jesus, has an interesting twist that is really the essence of the message. Not only were the fabled wise men non-Jews; they were pagans who were practicing a craft forbidden to Jews: consulting the stars as sources of superhuman information and wisdom. They claimed that it was through that very practice, condemned by the Jews, that they had found their way to the Jewish Messiah!
St. Matthew, in his Gospel, from which we heard the Good News today, is in a way chiding his fellow Jews, challenging them with the obvious fact that God had allowed his Christ to be recognized and presented to the world, not only through faithful Jews, but also by persons such as these pagan sojourners who embraced the truth when they saw it, no matter what had led them to it.
That is what we are baptized into, nothing less than that! The sacrament does not initiate us into a narrow, exclusive religious community whose members think and worship in the same way. It doesn’t set boundaries that the faithful are commissioned to observe. On the contrary, it sends us all out toward and beyond the horizon to tell the world, in everything we say and do, that God is pure, unconditional love and that we humans will be happy here on earth only to the extent that we live and act in love – and all that that includes and implies. Our baptism does not caution us to seek out and to associate only with those who share our faith and our understanding of God, but with all persons of whatever — and of no — religion who are of good will and who live in love. The reason for that is that the Spirit of God is in them, too, and speaks to us through them as well.
I hope that the baby boy I baptized last Sunday will be that kind of Christian, grateful for the Christian faith his parents and family have passed on to him, but eagerly open to the presence of God in everyone.
And that woman was right: there is no New Year’s resolution that outranks the determination to remain aware of the divine presence in every situation.