19 - Sunday After Theophany, January 11, 2009

Ephesians 4:7-18

Matthew 4:12-17 

What, or who, is this great Light that shines on those sitting in darkness, and what does its appearing in the waters of the Jordan mean? According to St John the Evangelist, the great Light is Christ through whom the world came to be. If the great Light through whom the world came to be is Christ, then Light and not darkness is the defining principle of our nature, and the defining principle of our nature is not the world but Christ. But if Christ came into the world, it means that before he came into the world we were separated from the defining principle of our nature. We were sitting in darkness because in the world we were living outside of our true selves, estranged from the center, the heart, of our being, separated from the defining principle of our nature. We were ignorant of God and therefore of our true identity.

If you look closely enough, you can see that so much of our energy in this life is devoted to making ourselves to be somebody that we can like and live with. Consciously or unconsciously, we measure our success in this effort by how much others like us or admire us. Toward this end, we choose a certain social group or hero we want to be associated with, and we set out to imitate the style, the speech, the fashion of that group or hero in order to identify with it and to take on its identity, to make a statement to the world that we are somebody. Look at me, we cry, and you will see that my identity is with this particular social group, this particular hero, for I have  fashioned my speech, my clothes, my mannerisms, my values, my religious and political and philosophical outlook after its image.

Step away for a moment to look closely at this phenomenon and see if you’re not looking into a mirror. Consider what it reveals about us. Does it not reveal that we don’t know who we are; or that we don’t like we who we are and we want to be somebody different; or that we’re afraid that we really aren’t anybody, but we want to be somebody? So we look around for an identity to put on so that we can be somebody. But, can you see that whatever identity we take on in this process, it will be a fake identity. It will be an identity we put on like a mask, and so an identity that in fact masks who we really are.

Theophany reveals to us our true identity, the defining principle of our nature, because it reveals to us the One in whom we originate and for whom we were created. It reveals Christ, the Son of God, the great Light of the great Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, by whom all things were made.  Whoever we are, we came to be through Christ, so that we find our true identity only in Christ, and apart from Christ none of us is who we truly are.

Now Christ himself is the Image of God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth. In biblical terms, Christ as the Image of God means that he is the effulgence of the Father’s glory, the character of his very substance. Whoever sees Christ sees the Father. Whoever knows Christ knows the Father. And we were created in the Image of God, which is Christ. In the defining principle of our nature, we are like God, and that means the defining principle of our nature is an innate capacity to partake of God, to become partakers of his own divine nature, and to become one with God by becoming one with Christ who became one with us when he became flesh.

In this, the Gospel is revealing to us that “social group” and that “hero” in whom we find our true identity. It is the “social group” of the Holy Trinity, and the “hero” is Christ. And if Christ is coming to us in the flesh, having united us to himself through the mystery of his Incarnation, it means that we are no longer separated from the defining principle of our nature. “Christ is in our midst” means that the defining principle of our nature is united with us. We can now become who we really are by uniting ourselves with Christ.

Now, if we look closely, we might see that this phenomenon of trying to find our identity in some social group is but the expression of a deeper hope for meaning. The desire for meaning is certainly one of our deepest needs because apart from meaning, our life is, well, meaningless; and such is the pain of a meaningless life that many there are who, having concluded that their life has no meaning, have chosen to end their life, preferring death to a meaningless life.

Christ is the Logos of God who was in the beginning with God and who is himself God. Now this Greek word, Logos, also carries the meaning of “meaning”. And so, we could say: In the beginning was Meaning; all things came to be through this Meaning of God. In this Meaning of God – the Divine Logos – was life, and this life was the light of men. This life that is the light of men and which is found in Christ, the divine Meaning of the world, is the Holy Spirit. Christ is the meaning that makes our life meaningful, because the life that he gives is the life of divine meaning. This life of divine meaning is not the life of the flesh. That life is darkness and death and meaningless until it is united to Christ in his Incarnation. Then, it becomes light and life and meaningful, but only as it is united to Christ to become animated by the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father and who, in the form of a dove, leads the whole cosmos to the waters of the Jordan, there to rest in Christ, in whom the whole world becomes alive with the meaning of God.

What, or who, is this meaning of God who overflows with the light and life, the grace and truth that are of God’s Holy Spirit? He is the font of grace and truth. He is the Love of God and the Wisdom of God by whose grace we are granted to step into the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit, Just as he stepped into the waters of the Jordan and got all wet, so we can step into the waters of our baptism, the cosmic waters which the Holy Spirit of God now wears like a garment in the form of a dove, and get all wet with the Spirit of God. Down to the marrow of our soul we can become soaking wet with the Holy Spirit and so become soaking wet with the Meaning of God, Christ Jesus Our Lord and Savior, to become enlightened with the knowledge of who we really are: children of God born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the desire of man but of the Spirit, the same Spirit by whom the Virgin conceived and gave birth to God the Son, the same Spirit that descended on Christ in the waters of the Jordan, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead in the mystery of his holy resurrection.

I believe that on the deepest level of our soul, we are thirsty for meaning. We want to know who we really are and why we exist. Is it not telling us something profound about ourselves that we cannot find our true identity or meaning in ourselves but in someone or something beyond ourselves? Hear the words of Christ, the God who has revealed himself: “Let him who is thirsty come to me and drink.” For Christ is the meaning of life; he is the love and the wisdom of God in whom we find our true identity. And he has appeared on earth in the flesh to call us out of darkness, out of death, out of meaninglessness into light and life and meaning, the light, the life and the meaning of God.

If we are of Christ who love the Lord’s appearing, then we are among the saints who have cast off the darkness in order to walk into the light. We are among those who no longer search for their true identity in the world, in the wisdom of men, but in Christ, the Meaning of God who was in the beginning, the True Light who enlightens everyone that comes into the world.

But let us understand very well: to walk in the light as Christ is in the light means that we are walking with Christ to Golgotha and to his Cross. The Christian Faith is not religious entertainment and it is not a fun-loving picnic. It is a sober life given to the serious business of renouncing the darkness and our body’s love for the darkness in order to step onto that better and changeless path that ascends to God. But in the light of Christ, we see that taking up our cross to crucify the flesh and its lusts is the death of the old man and the death of death. It is the taking off of all those false masks we have put on in search of our true identity, and the putting on of our true identity with the Robe of Light. It is the birth in us of the New Man united to Christ that rises from the waters of baptism to live in the Holy Spirit of Christ’s holy resurrection, walking in the way of his holy commandments.

Since Christ is our true identity, we who desire to love Christ must learn Christ. This is why we read the Holy Scriptures. This is why we pray, this is why we fast and practice his holy commandments. These are the ascetic disciplines by which we respond to Christ’s call to come out of the darkness and into the light, to find our true identity and our meaning not in this or that social group, not in this or that hero, but in the Holy Trinity and in Christ the great Light, the Meaning of the Father in whom is the Life and Light of the Holy Spirit, the defining principle of our nature.

This is why the Church now calls out to us who have celebrated the appearing of the Great Light in the joyful mysteries of Christmas and Theophany to gird up our loins, to take up our beds, and start getting ready for Great Lent and the journey to Pascha. Read the scriptures, say the prayers of the Church to keep your mind and heart centered in Christ, so that the fire of his Holy Spirit can cleanse you and enlighten you and show you that better and changeless path that ascends to God and reveals your true identity as a child of God. Be vigilant in soul and mind to practice the commandments of Christ and so begin shaping your life both within and without in the meaning of our true identity, which is in Christ, in whom we were made that we might become partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal, to the glory of God the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.