Feast of Theophany, Jan. 19, 2020
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Just twelve days ago we celebrated the birth of the Messiah, the quiet and humble revelation of Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Today we are transported some thirty years into the future, when Jesus came to the Jordan river to be baptized, to begin His public ministry, to be revealed publicly for the first time as the Son of God, the promised Messiah. And in less than four weeks, on February 15, we will be celebrating the Feast called the Meeting of the Lord, when forty-day old Jesus was brought to the Temple to be, what we call today, churched.
We jump in time from His birth, to when He was thirty years old, to back when He was forty days old. This all shows that in church, in our divine services, when we are present in them, when we participate in them, there is no time. It is always today. Today Christ is born. Today Christ is baptized. Today Christ is brought to the Temple.
By emphasizing this today, we proclaim that we participate in these events. We don’t simply remember them as historical events of the past, rather we become part of these events. Because today is the present, there is no past. Because if we are in Christ’s Church, we are part of His story, and His story is eternal. And eternity has no time.
So, today Christ is baptized. Let’s take a closer look at what this means.
Baptism was a Jewish practice, but it was reserved only for the Gentile converts to Judaism. Jews themselves were never baptized. So when John the Baptist appeared and began baptizing with a baptism of repentance, some of them were somewhat scandalized. What did he mean that they had to go through the same ritual as those Gentile sinners?
Yet, that’s exactly what John was telling them to do. He said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Messiah is coming, we need to prepare ourselves. And people came to him, repenting of their sins, with baptism being a physical manifestation of their repentance.
But then Christ came to John. As we know, Christ is God, and God is sinless. By nature God is unable to sin, just like we, for example, by nature are unable to fly on our own. But Christ came to John seeking the same baptism as all those Jews did – the baptism of repentance. What was the point of this baptism? What does a sinless God need to wash away?
I’ve thought about this question for a while now, and I do not think I have a complete answer yet. I think Jesus was baptized for the same reason He became incarnate, became a human being – in order to identify with us as fully as possible.
Some of the Holy Fathers of the Church say that Christ redeemed what He assumed. What wasn’t assumed, wasn’t redeemed. That’s why God became as much a human being as any one of us. He assumed all of our nature in order to sanctify, to redeem, it in Himself. The only thing He did not assume was sin because sin can’t be redeemed. Sin can only be purged.
Another obvious question here is – couldn’t God save us, just with a flick of His finger, if He really is all-powerful? He definitely could do it, but what kind of relationship would we have with Him then? He would remain this mysterious, unknowable, powerful Being, this Higher Power. We would make great drawings of Him, dedicate buildings to Him, and build awesome statues, but we would have absolutely no relationship with Him because He would have remained unconceivable.
Something created can’t have a relationship with its creator. No matter how much I try, I can’t have a relationship with a chair that I make, unless I become a chair also. That’s basically what God did when He became a human being. He became like us so that we would be able to know Him and have a relationship with Him.
And when He went into the Jordan river, He did not do it to wash away His sins because, again, He could not have any. He went into the water and received baptism to take the place of us sinners. As Christ Himself said on a few occasions, He came to save sinners. So, He identified with us sinners, and took our place.
When Jesus was born, He became like us; when He was baptized, He began taking our place. And He continued taking our place all the way to the Cross. The horrible death on the cross eventually would have been our destiny for our sins. But Christ took all of what it means to be us to the Cross, died for us, and because He is God Who assumed our nature, He resurrected and redeemed us.
This redemption begins today, on the day of Christ’s baptism. The water has always been a symbol of life and creation. Instead of being cleansed by the waters, Christ cleanses and renews all creation through the water. He enables the water with the power to purge us of our sins and renew us. That’s why we are also baptized in water, and why we bless water and bring it to our homes, and bless everything with it – because even to this day the water carries that power which Christ gave to it when He went into the waters of Jordan.
Christ is baptized today. He sanctifies the water today. He cleanses and renews us through this water today. Through this water we are able to have a relationship with God because He became like us. He knows what it means to be a human being, and He became known, He revealed Himself to us.
Today, let us get to know God a little bit more than we did before. Today, let us receive the gift of grace that we get through the holy water. Let us renew ourselves because today Christ is with us.
Always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.