|18 - Sunday Before Theophany, January 5, 2014|
II Timothy 4:5-8 (Sunday before)
I Corinthians 9:19-27 (epistle)
Mark 1:1-8 (Sunday before)
Luke 3:1-8 (Gospel)
“Theophany” or “Epiphany” is what we call the feast of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by John: the “Showing Forth” of God as Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the “Showing Forth” of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh. In all of this, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John is the “Showing Forth”, the “Epiphany” of the Gospel of salvation that is for all people.
“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” says the voice of the Father from the heavens that have opened while the Spirit comes down and rests on Jesus in the form of a dove. The scene is the coronation of the King of Israel. The words spoken by the Father are from the coronation Psalm (2:7), declaring Him to be the King of Israel. The descent of the Holy Spirit, coming down to rest on Jesus is the royaland divine anointing that confirms the truth of the Father’s word and seals the coronation. And the prophet John is not only the witness, but the one who conducts the rite of crowning; and the one St John is crowning is the real King of Israel, the LORD, the Son of God the Father. That’s why John is the greatest and the last of the prophets. The other prophets, if they were at all involved in the coronation of Israel’s king, would have been involved in the coronation of a man who was but a type of the real King of Israel who was yet to come. But St John crowns that Man, that Son of David, of whom all the prophecies were speaking, that man who was “shown forth” to John as well by the Holy Spirit; and, since this Jesus is the Son of God, the true King of Israel, there is no other King to crown, either now or ever. With the coronation of Jesus as the King of Israel in the waters of the Jordan, the work of the prophets is done, fulfilled: the one they bore witness to is here. He has come in the flesh and dwelt among us. And, He has been crowned by the Holy Spirit.
The coronation of Christ at the Jordan confirms that He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary as the Son of God. It takes us back to Christmas and confirms that the Child who was born as the Son of the All-Holy Virgin was none other than the Son of God, the royal divine heir to the throne of David His father on the side of His All-Holy Mother. And, if Jesus is the true King of Israel – as these events at the Jordan confirmed – it means everything that He is now standing in the waters of the Jordan (why in the waters of the Jordan?), in the flesh, naked, as the liturgical texts say (why is He naked?), being crowned and anointed as the “Christ”, the LORD, the Son of God, the true King of Israel.
I think it is this coronation Psalm that reveals, “shows forth”, that what is happening at this coronation of Jesus while He stands naked and in the waters of the Jordan is, if you will, of cosmic meaning. “The kings of the earth set themselves,” it says, “and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and His anointed (the Christ), saying: ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” (Ps 2:2-3) The cosmic meaning of Jesus’ coronation begins to “show forth” when we remember that when Jesus was crowned King of Israel, there was no kingdom of Israel that the kings and rulers of the earth would take counsel against to “break their bands asunder and to cast away their cords.” The kingdom of Israel had been destroyed. First the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was destroyed by Assyria in the 8th century BC. Then the Southern Kingdom, Judah, was destroyed by Babylon in the 6th century BC. Most of the Israelites (Northern Kingdom) and Jews (Southern Kingdom) were scattered and living in other parts of the Mediterranean. The Jews who were now in Israel at the time that Jesus was crowned King of Israel at His baptism in the Jordan were under the strong arm of Roman rule. Jewish uprisings there were, by zealots who sought to restore the Kingdom of Judah under a Davidic king, but these were squelched by Roman might until finally, in 63 AD or so, Jerusalem itself was destroyed – as it had been at the time of Jeremiah the prophet – and the temple demolished. Israel, that is to say, as a worldly kingdom was no more. I think it important to note that, according to the word of the LORD spoken through the prophets, the kingdom of Israel had been destroyed because of her faithlessness and her idolatry; because she, like Adam and Eve, had gone after the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And so, she had been expelled from the Holy Land and had “returned to the dust of the ground whence she was taken.” Israel was no more.
It is against this backdrop of a kind of worldly political “desert” that Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan in a baptism that is “shown forth” as soon as Jesus comes out of the waters to be a heavenly coronation, the “epiphany” or “revelation” of Jesus as the Son of God, the LORD, the true King of Israel in the opening of the heavens, the voice of the Father speaking from Psalm 2:7, and the Spirit descending in the form of a dove and resting on Jesus in a divine anointing or “chrismation”. I suppose one could have hoped that the LORD God had become flesh in order to rise up against the kings and rulers of the earth and restore the Kingdom of Israel back to its old glory days – otherwise, this baptismal coronation would look most silly. But, what I see is that it was Jesus’ baptism in the waters of the Jordan, and that He stood in those waters naked, that showed His heavenly coronation as the King of Israel to be of cosmic meaning, far beyond what even His disciples would see until they themselves were “anointed” by the Holy Spirit of the crucified and risen Savior.
For, waters in general – as both the OT prophets and the Church’s liturgical texts give us to understand – symbolize creation. The LORD standing in the waters is a theological image whose significance is caught by St John the Evangelist – which is why I believe the opening verses of St John’s Gospel may very well be his theological account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan: “In the beginning (in the waters of creation) was the Word, and the Word was with the Father, and the Word was God. In Him was Life (the descent of the Holy Spirit), and the Life was the Light of men.” Jn 1:1-4) Jesus standing in the waters, in the beginning, as the Son of God, shows Him performing the highest, most important work of the true King: creating the world and raising His people – “His own” – to life.
He stands in the waters of the Jordan. Liturgical texts also identify them with the waters of the Red Sea, giving us to see the Epiphany, the “Showing Forth” of the King leading His people on a true Exodus, delivering them from the devil who held them enslaved in the power of death (Heb 2:14), as Moses led Israel out of Egypt; and, leading them back to Eden, into the Kingdom of Heaven, as the first “Jesus” (Joshua” led Israel through the Jordan into the Promised Land.
Liturgical texts tell us He was baptized naked. Immediately, one recalls the tragedy of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Their eyes were opened, it says, and they saw that they were naked. His nakedness in the Jordan “shows forth” His extreme humility and tender compassion. Out of His love for mankind, He who was equal to the Father, emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant; and where the first Adam had been disobedient, the New Adam became obedient even to the point of death on the cross. He who is the Light of the world, the very radiance of the Father, became naked like we were. He took upon Himself the iniquities of us all. He who knew no sin became sin for us, in order to call us out of darkness and into His marvelous Light (I Pet 2:9); i.e., to clothe us in the Robe of Glory that He had with the Father before the world was made. (Jn 17:5)
All of this shows forth the true nature of Jesus’ Kingdom. It is not the earthly Kingdom of Israel. That has returned to the dust and is no more. It is a Kingdom of Resurrection from the dead, not of this world. It is the Kingdom of Heaven, shown forth in the opening of the heavens and in this heavenly coronation ceremony. Or rather, it is the Kingdom of Israel that is raised from the dust of the ground in the perfect obedience of the true King of Israel, by which He destroys death by His death and gives life to those in the tombs.
Do you see? If we receive Jesus as our King, it means that we are choosing to follow Him into the heavens that have been opened by Him. But, that means repentance in the obedience of faith: coming out of Jerusalem and Judea and the region around the Jordan, coming out of the “city” of indolence and indulgence, to meet Him in the desert: to meet Him, in other words on the Cross of self-denial. It says that after He was baptized, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted by the devil – or rather, from the perspective of Christ’s victory on the Cross: for the purpose of triumphing over the devil. Through the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and to triumph over the devil by the weapon of victory, Christ’s Cross: that is where the road to Eden that has been opened for all leads. The true Israelite is the one who submits to Jesus as King and LORD in the obedience of faith, and follows Him through the wilderness of self-denial, to the Cross and to the death of the old man, putting to death what is earthly in us: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness – which is idolatry (Col 3:4) the sin that brought about the destruction of the old Israel and the old Adam.
Great Lent is the liturgical wilderness of Christ’s Body – His Church – into which the Spirit of Jesus Christ leads those who receive Him as their King and LORD. Through the ascetic disciplines of Great Lent, we take up our cross to meet Christ in the wilderness of His death on the Cross. But, then He creates us anew, and raises us to His Kingdom of Heaven that has been opened for us, for by His death He has destroyed death. Glory to Jesus Christ!