18 - Theophany, January 6, 2013

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

Matthew 3:13-17

We call the baptism of Christ in the Jordan by John “Theophany” because it is the manifestation of God, and of Jesus as the Son of God who has become flesh of the Holy Virgin and dwelt among us. We also call it the Feast of Lights because it reveals the Three Persons of the Trinity as Three Lights like Three eternal uncreated Suns who are one in their essence; and Jesus is revealed to be the “Second” of the Three Lights, for the Light of the Father bears witness to Him with the voice that sounds from heaven: “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and the Light that is the Holy Spirit confirms the truth of that voice by alighting on Christ in the form of a dove – so that we can also call this Feast of Lights “Epiphany”, for it “shows forth” Christ as the Son of God, the Light of God who is begotten of the Father as God from God, Light from Light; or, as St Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews, He is the very radiance of the Father’s glory; or, as John the Evangelist says in his Gospel: “He was the true Light coming into the world, who makes every man light [who illumines every man].” He is the Light of Life that shines in the darkness, whom the darkness cannot extinguish; for indeed, He fills the darkness with Light. He fills it with Himself.

Yet, He did not appear as Light or as God to the eyes of men; for He clothed Himself in our flesh. He became man and took on the “schema”, the form of a servant. Though He was in the form – i.e., the essence – of God, nonetheless He took the form, the essence, of man so completely that in His obedience to the Father He suffered in His humanity like we do even to the point of death on the Cross.

Here on the Feast of Theophany are these “basics” of the Christian Faith presented to us, they are “made manifest” to us; and especially we who have grown up in the Church are as much in danger of not hearing them as those who do not believe, because we are so familiar with them.

Let us “stop the presses” and pause to let our minds take in, as much as is in our power, this proclamation of the Christian Faith: God the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God the Son, the Light begotten of Light, infinitely brighter than all the suns of the universe together, descends into the waters of the Jordan river, a river so mean and disgusting to the commander Naaman that when Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan if he wanted to be cleansed of his leprosy, he would not do it. This is God the Lord who stands in this lowly Jordan river, the glory of His divinity veiled by the covering of His humanity, our humanity.

And, in His humanity, in our humanity, as Adam, Christ the Son of Adam, the Son of God, is baptized by John in the Jordan and the heavens are opened to Him; they are opened to Him in His humanity, i.e., in our humanity, in my humanity. The heavens are opened to me, to us, to all mankind; they are opened within me, within our own humanity because they were opened to Christ in His humanity which He received from the Holy Virgin Theotokos, which is our humanity. The path from earth to heaven, from darkness to light, from death to life does not lie outside of us. It lies within us, in our humanity. Such a subtle, mystical teaching: how are we to learn it and understand it that we might know how to do it, how to find this path within us that we may walk in the Light of God that shines in the darkness of our souls even as He is in the Light?

In my humanity, the heavens were not opened to me but to Christ. They were opened in my humanity, but they were opened to Christ, not to me; which means, I believe, that they are opened to me only if I unite myself to Christ. Uniting myself to Christ: that is the work of faith that begins in holy baptism when we are born again from above and are clothed in the Robe of Light, the “form” of Christ in the divine Glory that is natural to Him. That is the work of faith that begins in holy baptism and continues my life long. I continue the work of uniting myself to Christ as I follow Him, “filled with the Holy Spirit away from the Jordan,” away from the baptismal font, and I am led in Christ “by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” as it says in Luke’s Gospel (4:1)

So, you see, brothers and sisters in Christ, when after the joy of your holy baptism, when you may indeed have felt the joy of heaven opening to you, you find yourself in the wilderness of your daily life troubled by trials and tribulations that tempt you in so many different ways, it does not mean that you’ve fallen away from the path that leads into the heavens that are opened before us. It means that you are on the path; for into the wilderness of our daily life is where Christ leads us “in the Spirit”, the “Third Light” of God that descended on you and washed over you and regenerated you as a child of God in the holy font of your baptism. And so, we needn’t fret over how to go about learning this subtle, mystical path that leads into the heavens opened before us. We need simply to be faithful to the Christ who is our Moses, our Joshua, who leads us and speaks to us and teaches us and cleanses us and corrects us not through the voices in our head or through the wisdom of our own opinions but through the mysteries of His Holy Church. For, Christ Himself has walked through the wilderness to ascend Golgotha in the heart of the Promised Land; Christ Himself has ascended the Cross and put the devil to flight, He has bound the strong man, He has shattered the iron doors and bronze gates of hell and illumined the darkness of hell with the brilliance of the fire that radiates from the uncreated Glory that He had with the Father from before the foundation of the world; and He has breathed His own Holy Spirit onto the human soul that before was dead in sins and trespasses. He has rolled the stone away from the tomb of our heart and He has come forth from the tomb of our heart as a Bridegroom in procession into the Glory and Light of His Holy Resurrection. So, those who would follow Christ, all they need to do is unite themselves to Him. How do they do that? They deny themselves and take up their cross, the ascetic disciplines of the Church, and work to make the prayer of St John the Baptist their own prayer: that I may decrease so that Christ may increase in me. They work to die to themselves so that it is no longer they who live but Christ who lives in them. And, in the wilderness of this life, they eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, and so they become one flesh with Him, members of His crucified and risen body. They eat and drink the death and resurrection of Christ, so that the body of the New Adam who has conquered death and who has opened the heavens begins to grow in them as they walk in the Light of His Holy Commandments, pursuing a spiritual manner of living. Do this and we will live, the Scriptures tell us.

Do this and we will live. This sets up the last point I want to make this morning.

The heavens were opened to Him. They were opened to Him already as the Son of God; now they are opened up to Him as the Son of Man, the New Adam. This is an epiphany, a revelation, not only of who Christ is but of who we are and why we exist. Of all the creatures God made, including the angels in heaven, man alone was made, male and female, in the image and likeness of God: i.e., man alone was made in the personal mystery of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Our prototype is not the ape, if you will, or the rhizome of some cosmic energy pulsing through the universe. Our prototype is the divine Person of Christ God, Our Lord, the Word and exact Icon of the Father. The Christian Faith does not understand what Christ was like from the science of man; in the Christian Faith, we understand what man is like from the doctrine of Christ; i.e., it is not anthropology that determines our Christology; it is Christology that determines our anthropology. We are like God; we are “akin” to God; we have a natural capacity for God, to receive Him so that He is our Life that illumines us from within. Alone of all the creatures, only our human nature is “made equal to God in the divine person of Christ, and possesses utterly and perfect purity, and can contain, so to speak, all the radiance and splendor, power and energy of the divine Spirit.” (St Gregory Palamas, Hom 60.10) When do we “see” this mystery of human nature revealed in the Baptism of Christ consummated in its perfection? In the Ascension of Christ, who ascends in His humanity, in our humanity; and, in the mystery of the Theotokos, who, in her humanity, in our humanity, is the Queen of Heaven, arrayed in glorious robes, standing at the side of the Savior enthroned at the Right Hand of the Father.

When I contemplate the proclamation of Theophany, I am filled with wonder and dismay. I am so darkened, I do not even begin to appreciate the majesty, the glory that is mine by nature as it is revealed in the mystery of Christ. In my foolishness and in my ignorance, I allow myself to be seduced by the sweet pleasures of the flesh and I give in to lethargy and laziness, weighed down by the heavy burden of my sins that have followed from my lust, my gluttony, my greed, my vainglory. I satisfy myself with dust, with trinkets and baubles that glitter with the ephemeral transience of the world, when I was made to be equal with God and to contain all the radiance and splendor, power and energy of Christ’s Holy Spirit.

It is to this work of faith, this work of shaking ourselves out of our lethargy, that I think St Paul refers when he exhorts us to encourage one another with spiritual hymns. He I think is exhorting us to what should be the chief characteristic of the “new community” named after Christ: the characteristic of the faithful constantly exhorting each other to the work of faith, the work of love, which is to unite ourselves to Christ that we may so attain to the high calling and purpose of our having been created in the Image and Likeness of God. Let us “repent”, turn around, resolve quietly but firmly within ourselves that this shall become the central work of our life on earth, the hidden work of our soul, the work of redeeming the time, not squandering the days of our life in laziness and frivolous pursuits, so that we may follow Christ into the wilderness, to Golgotha, and into the heavens that He has opened to us in the Triumph of His Cross and in the Glory of His Holy Resurrection and Ascension. Amen.