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The Theophany: Immersed in God

1/12/2003 - 10:20 PM PST

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By: Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC


“Therefore the Lord Jesus came to baptism, and willed to have his body washed with water. Perhaps some one will say: “He who is holy, why did he wish to be baptized?” Pay attention therefore! Christ is baptized, not that he may be sanctified in the waters, but that he himself may sanctify the waters, and by his own purification may purify those streams which he touches. For the consecration of Christ is the greater consecration of another element.

For when the Savior is washed, then already for our baptism all water is cleansed and the fount purified, that the grace of the laver may be administered to the peoples that come after. Christ therefore takes the lead in baptism, so that Christian peoples may follow after him with confidence.

I understand the mystery: for the column of fire went first through the Red Sea, that the children of Israel might tread the hazardous journey without fear; and it, itself, went first through the waters, so that for those coming after it, it might prepare a way to pass. Which event, as the Apostle says, was a symbol of baptism. Clearly baptism in some sort of way has been carried out when the cloud overshadowed the men, and the wave bore them.

But the one who performed all these things was still the same Lord Christ, who as he then went before the children of Israel in a pillar of fire, now by baptism goes before Christian peoples in the pillar of his body. This is the very pillar I maintain which then supplied light to the eyes of those who followed, and who now furnishes light to the hearts of believers; who then in the waves of the sea made firm the pathway, and now in the laver strengthens the footprints of faith.”

A Sermon by St. Maximus of Turin (423 AD)

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Today, in the Western Catholic Church, we “ended” the Christmas season with the great feast of the Lord’s “Baptism in the Jordan”. Decorations in our Churches (and in many of our homes) came down-unless that occurred last week, which was the Western Feast of the “Epiphany”.

The origins of the differing timelines of the commemoration of these Feasts in the East and the West; and the theological distinctive they reveal; are rich, important and supremely interesting.

Yet, while theologians continue to grapple with these matters, in the Third Christian Millennium, the plan of God is still being revealed by Epiphanies. His “manifestation” continues to unfold and we are invited to be a part of that great mission.

It is to that ongoing plan of redemption, that I now turn as I share my reflections on the meaning of this Feast.

I was struck this morning at Mass (the “Divine Liturgy” as it is called in the East) with the meaning of this important feast. This event of the Baptism of Jesus by John marks the beginning of His “public” ministry. He was thirty years old. He died His redemptive death at Golgotha when He was thirty three.

He spent thirty redemptive years of life in what writers have sometimes referred to as “His hidden years” in Nazareth’s school, “growing in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52) During those years, in the hearth of a human family, the Son of God, fully Divine and fully human, sanctified and transformed the entirety of the human experience.

The fathers of the Church referred to the Christian faith, and the sacraments of the church, as “the mysteries”. They are. They are inexhaustible in their depth of meaning, like a rich feast that never ends and a deep ocean of wonder into which we are invited to wade. We can never touch the bottom.

The God, who made the whole universe and created man out of the dust of the earth, took on our humanity. He lived in the first home of every human, His self- chosen mothers womb. By first occupying a womb, those first nine months of His life have made every human pregnancy even more profound. God was in the womb! Because of this extraordinary fact, every human pregnancy, every womb, was forever elevated beyond the dignity it already possessed.

Also, the extreme evil of abortion is made even more profane.

This year we in America “commemorate” the horror of legalized abortion when one more “anniversary” of the infamous judicial decision of the case “Roe v. Wade” is remembered. Roe v. Wade gave legal protection to the killing of children in the womb. In America, it has been the law of the land for thirty years. What horrors it has unleashed. How desperately we need to be saved from the “culture of death” that it represents.

This Redeemer in the womb, Jesus, began His saving work “in utero”. So powerful was His “hidden” presence in that womb that the one to whom He would come for Baptism, John, was himself “baptized” in the womb of his mother Elizabeth by the ...

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