Epistle to St. Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7
Gospel According to St. Matthew 3:13-17
Today is the Feast of Epiphany, when we celebrate our Lord’s baptism in the river Jordan by St. John the Forerunner. Another name for the feast is Theophany, for it is shown—it is revealed at Jesus Christ’s baptism—that He is the Son of God. Indeed, the Holy Trinity is revealed at His baptism, for the Father says, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove.
The meaning of the Feast of Christmas is fulfilled at Theophany, for now it is made clear that the One born in Bethlehem is truly God, come to restore our fallen nature and to renew the entire creation by uniting humanity with divinity in Himself. And even as the Son of God entered our world at His birth, He now enters the flowing water of a river in order to make it holy, in order to bring His blessing and fulfillment upon the world that He created. For the entire creation was subjected to futility because of the rebellion of our first parents. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” for it also “will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. “
The good news of the gospel is that the Creator has become part of the creation in order to make it a new heaven and a new earth. We see at Theophany that nothing is intrinsically profane or cut off from the blessing and holiness of God. All things, physical and spiritual, visible and invisible, are called to participate in the divine glory that our Lord has brought to the world, to become part of the new heaven and earth of God’s kingdom. Christ’s baptism demonstrates that we, too, are saved along with the rest of the creation, for it is through the water that we share in His life. “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” In baptism, we receive the garment of light that Adam and Eve lost when they distorted themselves and the entire creation with sin and death. The incarnate Son of God sanctified our flesh and blood at His birth, and at His baptism He sanctifies the water through which our vocation as those created in the divine image and likeness is fulfilled.
I know that sometimes we are tempted to forget that human beings are also part of the creation, that we also are dependent upon the light of the sun, the fruits of the earth, and the air that we breathe. God created Adam from the dust of the earth; yes, our bodies are made of the same stuff as all life forms on our planet. That’s a humbling reminder that God sustains our life together with that of all His other creatures, but it shouldn’t surprise us. Have you ever noticed how God uses the basic physical substances life, such as water, wine, bread, and oil to bring us into His life? Whether it’s the smell of incense, the beauty of icons, or the very existence of a church building, we are surrounded by created blessings that enable us to worship the Lord. That shouldn’t be surprising, for He is the source of all things, including our hearts, souls, and minds. If we forget that we are His creatures in the midst of His good creation, we won’t be able to worship or serve Him at all.
Unfortunately, it’s a common human temptation to forget what it means to worship God. It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that the world revolves around us and that the limitations and problems experienced by others somehow do not—or at least, should not– apply to us. But then reality slaps us in the face: the loss of a loved one, sickness, unemployment, a broken relationship, or even bad weather remind us quickly that we are subject to the difficulties that inevitably accompany life in our corrupt world.
At the Feast of Epiphany, we are reminded, however, that these challenges do not separate us from God, for they do not remove us from His blessed creation or destroy our ability to share in His life. Jesus Christ entered fully into the world as know it. He made holy every dimension of our life, including suffering and pain, from the womb to the tomb. No part of the creation, and no dimension of our existence, can separate us from His presence, from His blessing, from His steadfast love. He has conquered even death on our behalf.
But for us to receive this good news requires a kind of death on our part also. For we must die to the illusion that we are somehow not part of the creation—in other words, to the illusion that we are God. We must die to the idolatry of self that leads us to worship false idols such as pride, greed, and lust. That’s the same selfish idolatry that leads us to pollute and destroy natural resources as though they belonged to us and not ultimately to the Lord. We must die to our tendency to be a curse, not a blessing, to the rest of God’s good creation, including our fellow humans and the natural world. Unfortunately, we rarely recognize the sacredness of the creation, of other people, or even of ourselves. Instead of offering our blessings to the Lord, we often just want to be left alone to go on with life on our terms. So we don’t want to be inconvenienced by meeting the needs of the poor and lonely, or forgiving those who have offended us, or even taking the time to reduce the amount of pollution that we produce by simple steps like recycling or composting.
But we are reminded at Theophany that life on our own terms isn’t really life at all. For when we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death. We die with Christ to sin and all its corruptions so that we will rise with Him in newness of life, so that we will be clothed in a garment of light and participate fully in His victory over sin and death. For the blessed life that our Lord has brought to the world is not just the continuation of what’s become comfortable and familiar to us. Instead, it’s a life that requires a decisive break from the corruption that has become a second nature to us.
Perhaps that’s why St. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ and then baptized Him. St. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets and a fiery preacher who boldly called people to repent, to prepare the way of the Lord in their lives by making His paths straight. He lived in the desert, ate bugs and honey, and looked like a wild man. Like the other true prophets, he wasn’t concerned with pleasing people, but with telling them the truth in no uncertain terms. If they were to be ready for the Messiah, they had to stop sinning and start living lives pleasing to God.
I hope that you get the point. To be baptized into Christ is to die from all that separates us from God. It is to share in the blessing that our Lord has brought to the entire world; it is to see all of the creation as holy, as participating in the transformation and healing of the Kingdom. Every dimension of our lives must become an epiphany, a showing or manifestation, of God’s salvation. We are to offer every aspect of our life, and every bit of the world with which we come in contact, to the Lord as a sacrament, as a participation in the Holy Mystery of God. For nothing is outside the scope of His love; nothing is separate from His will for a new heaven and new earth. He wants the entire creation—yes, the whole universe– to shine brightly with the glory of the His divinity, and that includes us.
Today is the Feast of Theophany. It’s time to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight. For He comes to renew all creation and to bring us into the glory of His kingdom. He comes to make all reality an icon of His holiness. Let’s not stand in the way; let’s not refuse His blessing, but instead live as those who, having died to sin, truly wear a garment of light.