16 - Holy Theophany. "My Beloved Son!" Jan 6 2019

For audio, click here

Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7

Matthew 3:13-17

“You are My Beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased,” says the voice of the Father when Jesus rises from the Jordan. These words are from the coronation hymn of Ps 2:7. We hear them again when Jesus is transfigured (2 Pt 1;17; Mat 17:5; Mark 9:7). But, should we consider it remarkable in none of these texts is the coronation hymn of Ps 2:7 quoted in full? “Today have I begotten thee!” is omitted.

For, it is the witness of the prophets and of the holy apostles in the Holy Spirit that this Jesus does not begin to be God’s Son at the Jordan. He is the Son of God begotten from the Father timelessly. He Himself is the Beginning in whom all things came to be, the One in whom all things exist and are held together. He is the Image of God in whom we were created. In the “light” of this biblical testimony, the mystery of the LORD’s baptism in the Jordan begins to show its meaning for us “today”.

The Church calls out to us at Christmas to raise our minds on high and go to Bethlehem, to see the Virgin giving birth in the cave to the Transcendent One, the eternal God. We are not called to imagine but to see the mystery of Christ born of the Virgin. So also at this Feast of Theophany, the Church again calls us to raise our minds on high and come from Bethlehem to the Jordan to behold the LORD renewing creation in its waters. Again, this is not calling us to imagine but to see. How can we see what happened long, long ago and far away?

But, that’s not what we’re called to see. We’re called to see this Jesus born of the Virgin as the mystery of God that is in you (Col 1:27). In the mystery of Christmas, the eternal God begins to dwell in time, timelessly; in the mystery of Pascha, His Heavenly Kingdom is sown in you (Lk 17:4). The Church is calling us, then to find the incarnate God in the waters of our soul. He has sown the Seed of His Holy Spirit, the Seed of His eternal life in the life of our flesh that is dying daily, daily drawing us ever nearer to the grave, back to the dust. The righteousness that is fulfilled in His baptism by John (cf. Wisd. Sol 1:15 & 2:21) is this: that He has woven Himself into the very fabric not just of our life in the flesh but in our death!

Dear faithful, the true death is of the soul. The true life is of the soul. We think we’re alive because we’re walking around in the flesh. But we are dying and our end is death and corruption because we are dust. This is the incontestable proof that our life in the flesh is rooted in death, not in life, certainly not in the eternal life of God.

That we do not hear the Father say that He has begotten Jesus as His Son today, then, is remarkable because it means that this Jesus, who existed in the flesh in time, in His inner identity is the Son of God begotten timelessly of the Father before all ages. Therefore, seeing Him in the flesh, we are seeing the eternal God now living in our flesh. The energy of God is therefore now working in our flesh. The energy of Christ who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life is now living in our daily life, working in our dying and our death like a divine Seed of the Spirit buried in the ground of our soul.

All of this sets in relief what I believe is the burden of the Church’s preaching and teaching: to bring us out from living in the world and to direct us inward, to live in our soul in the presence of the Holy Virgin and her Son, the eternal God, Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father before all ages, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father.

For the holy fathers and Holy Scripture, to live in the world means to live in our “earthly members”, the world of the passions, the world man has made. It means to live in anger, impurity, greed, conceit, in self-pity, in entitlement. Living in this world of the passions, the world man has made, we become numb to our soul’s deep thirst and hunger for God. We become forgetful of our forgetfulness of God. In this state, we do not live in the energy of God’s Holy Spirit. We live in the energy of the ruler of this age. His is the energy of disobedience that works disintegration and death in our soul and body. In this dark energy of the ruler of the power of the air, we are tossed about from one side to the other. We are beaten up and beaten down. We are bruised and wounded some of us in our body, all of us in our mind and soul, making us children of anger and fear, anxiety and despair, of darkness and meaninglessness.

John the Baptist, it says, was “a voice crying in the wilderness.” He lived in the wilderness. Here is our image of living in our soul in the presence of the Virgin and her Son; For, the physical “wilderness” represents the spiritual wilderness of our soul, our inner man. As the Psalmist tells us, as do many of the Church’s liturgical texts: “My soul thirsts for Thee as a dry and dreary land where there is no water,” no Holy Spirit! The paths and roads John the Baptist calls us to make straight, then, are not physical roads. They are that narrow path within us that leads “out of the city,” out of Egypt, away from our slavery to our own reasonings, from out of the darkening mists of our imaginations and fantasies, and into our heart through the wilderness of our soul.

His clothing and his food were that of the prophet, Elijah. He baptized near if not on the spot where Elijah was taken up into heaven in the fiery chariot. To be baptized by John, the people had to come out of the city and into the wilderness, to the spot where the prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven. The LORD comes out of the city into the wilderness and to the Jordan to be baptized by John. And there, in the wilderness, is where the heavens were opened, like the curtain of the temple that was torn in two from top to bottom at His Crucifixion, like the stone that was rolled away from the tomb opening His tomb onto the “other side” of His Resurrection, like the firmament that was in effect split in two at the creation.  The opened heavens reveal the destination of His “Exodus”. Following the imagery of the Exodus, the opened heavens correspond to the Land of Canaan. The opened heavens, then, are the real Promised Land.

So, let us take careful note of the Path by which the Savior makes his Ascent back up to Heaven to the Right Hand of the Father where He was before. The Spirit, it says, leads Him into the wilderness, then from there to the Cross on the summit of Golgotha and into the Tomb near the place He was crucified.

All of this, too, has a spiritual dimension. The Spirit leads Him who is sharper than any two-edged sword into the wilderness of the human soul, piercing to the division of bone and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart where we are deep, beyond all things, but where we were separated from Him by a dividing wall—a curtain, a stone, a firmament—of enmity. Into our darkness He who is the Light of the world descends, and His Light the darkness cannot extinguish. Into our death on this side of the dividing wall He descends, He Who is the Resurrection and the Life; and here, on this side of the grave, He Who Is the Son of God from the other side becomes one with us on this side. He, the “River of Joy”, pours out the Living Waters of His Spirit onto the desert of our soul. He shines His uncreated Light in the darkness of our heart. He shatters the wall of enmity, opening the Path that ascends to Heaven where He was before so that if we want to, we can follow Him through the wilderness of our soul, into the tomb of our heart, and back to Eden and to its summit where the Tree of Life stands in the deep, beyond all things, in the mystery of Heaven.

Therefore, to put on the Robe of Light in the Holy Font is to go with Christ on an inner Exodus out of Egypt, out of the world man has made, out from the slavery of our own reasonings, and into the wilderness of our soul; and, in our daily life, as we are dying and drawing near the tomb, to live with Him in the tomb of our heart. How do we do that?

We must anchor our mind and all our thoughts to the WORD of the LORD that cries out to us from the Sanctuary of His Holy Church. We must bring ourselves physically into His Holy Temple, i.e., into His Body, which is the Church in the spiritual depths of her sacramental and liturgical worship, to receive Him again and again in the words of the Church’s prayers, hymns, her prophetic and apostolic teachings that He pours out on us. All of these things carry Christ; they are so many embodiments of Christ’s Holy Spirit. When the words of the Church touch your ears, it is Christ touching your ears. Through them, in them, we draw near to Christ—not in imagination but concretely, bodily—in the fear of God, with faith and love, even to partake of Him as our food and drink.

Thus it is that the LORD and His Way that leads into Eden and into the opened Heavens, that we are looking to find is not outside of us but within us. And thus, we bring our mind again and again from out of the city, out of Egypt, out of the slavery of our own reasonings and into the wilderness where the LORD is, triumphing over the devil, and into the tomb of our heart where the LORD is destroying our death by His death. This internal work is not easy, for it is not ordinary work. It is not a work of the world. It is divine work not of this world. We need a teacher, a divine teacher to guide us and instruct us on how to do it. We will not find that Teacher outside the Church, for the Teacher must be the Image of God Himself, Jesus Christ, in whose image we were created. It is the work of learning how to listen, deeply, for the WORD of God speaking to us in the Beauty of His Church’s prayers, hymns, doctrines and worship. This internal work opens up to us as we do the external work of the Church’s ascetic disciplines. It is all centered on the Holy Altar of Christ’s Holy Church, from which, in the Church’s liturgical and sacramental worship, Christ works in us for our salvation. Amen!