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The Dove in the Heavens

January 11, 2015 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

January 11, 2015
Mark 1:7-11
Fr. George Smiga

Today’s gospel presents Jesus’ baptism by John. All four of the gospels agree that Jesus’ ministry begins with an event at the Jordan. In this event Jesus knows and claims his status as God’s beloved son. In this moment Jesus knows without a doubt that God is with him. This is what you and I want in our lives. We want to know that God loves us. We want to know that we are not alone. But how do we open ourselves to this truth. Where do we look to find the assurance of God’s presence?

Today’s gospel offers us two images to guide us. The first is the image of the Holy Spirit. The text says, “The spirit, like a dove, descended on Jesus.” The dove is the most common image of the Holy Spirit. The dove is a sign of peace, of comfort, of God’s presence. This is what we want in our relationship with God. We want to know that God is close, that God is compassionate, and that God is tender with us in our needs.

But the second image in the gospel is a very different one. The second image in the gospel is “the heavens.” This gospel makes clear that at Jesus’ baptism the sky above him was not serene. The text says that “Jesus looked up and saw the heavens being torn open.” If the dove is a sign of peace, the heavens are a sign of violence. If the dove is all about cooing and comfort, the heavens are about thunder and fear.

The power of this gospel is that it takes these two very different images and joins them together. It does this to tell us that God’s comforting presence, the dove, is not limited to tranquil situations. In fact it is in the midst of upheaval and turmoil that we should expect the spirit of God to arrive. When there is trouble in our lives, when our children or our parents disappoint us, when our health fails, when people we trust turn away from us, we should not conclude that God has forgotten us. Instead we should expect that God will find a way to reach us even in the midst of pain and loss.

When there is trouble in our world—terrorists in France, Ebola in Africa, war in the Middle East—we should not conclude that God is absent. Instead, we should look for signs of the Holy Spirit, signs of hope, opportunities to co-operate with others so that people can be brought together rather than be kept apart.

God’s comforting presence is not limited to happy situations. God knows that we need help and support in difficult circumstances. Therefore, when our life collapses or turns bad, we must trust that God will find a way to comfort us. We are, after all, God’s beloved daughters and sons. So when the thunder roars and the heavens are ripped apart, it is then that we should watch for the Holy Spirit to come, descending through the turmoil like a dove.

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