Christ’s Baptism as an Epiphany of the Salvation of the World: Homily for the Feast of Theophany in the Orthodox Church

Matthew 3:13-17; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

          Today we celebrate that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God and One of  the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.  At His baptism by St. John the Forerunner in the Jordan, the voice of the Father proclaims, “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 humanity and to renew the entire creation as the God-Man.  The Savior now enters the flowing water of a river in order to make it holy, in order to bring His blessing upon the world that He created.  The entire creation was subjected to futility because of the rebellion of our first parents, and now the New Adam comes to restore it and us.  As St. Paul wrote, “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.“  ( Rom. 8: 21-22)

At Epiphany, we celebrate that the Creator has become part of the creation in order to make it a new heaven and a new earth.   At Theophany, we celebrate that no dimension of our life or world is intrinsically profane or cut off from sharing in the 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 even now signs of the coming fullness of God’s Kingdom.  He sanctified our flesh and blood at His birth, and at His baptism He demonstrates that we, too, are saved along with the rest of the creation, for it is through 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 degraded themselves and the entire creation through slavery to sin and death.

When we bless water at the conclusion of Liturgy today, we will participate in our Lord’s fulfillment of His gracious purposes for all reality.  Holy water is a sign that God desires everything to find restoration and perfection in His Kingdom.  Though we pollute it and it often seems like our enemy in storms and floods, water is fundamentally God’s gift to sustain our lives.  We simply cannot live without it, and neither can anything else in nature.   By entering into the Jordan at His baptism, Christ has restored and fulfilled water’s life-giving purpose as a sign of His gracious will for every dimension of the universe that He spoke into existence.

At Epiphany house blessings, the priest sprinkles holy water in every room, which is a sign of God’s blessing upon even the small details and physical settings of our daily lives.  The house blessing is also a calling to sanctify every aspect of ourselves as we become more fully the distinctive human persons God created us to be in the divine image and likeness.  To do so requires entering more fully into Christ’s baptism such that we die to sin and rise up with Him in holiness. The healing of our souls is not a one-time event, but an ongoing journey of sharing more fully in the restoration that He has brought to the world.  True Christianity is not an escape from any of the challenges of life, but instead the path for becoming an icon of the fulfillment of the human person, and of the creation itself, in God.

This Theophany, let us live as those who have become epiphanies of what happens when people put on Christ like a garment.   As St. Paul wrote to St. Titus, that means “to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world; awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good deeds.”  Doing so is our only way to provide the world a much needed sign of its salvation in the Lord revealed as God in the waters of the Jordan.



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