Why Was Jesus Baptized? Living the 'Theophany', the Baptism of the Lord
human mother and father; and parenting and family life forever took on a deeper meaning in the domestic church of the family. At the bench of Joseph the carpenter; he learned the carpenter's trade and sanctified all human work as a participation in the continuing work of both creation and redemption.
The word "Epiphany" means "manifestation", a making present, a revealing. There is no doubt that even during those so called "hidden" years the plan, purpose and redemptive implications of the entire saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were being manifested and revealed.
They reveal how the ordinary becomes "extraordinary" when lived in communion with the Father. The "Baptism of the Lord" is also called the "Theophany", the manifestation of God Himself. Our Gospel at the Liturgy will recount the wondrous revealing of the Holy Trinity. As the Incarnate Word of the Father was immersed in the Waters, the voice of the Father is heard and the Spirit descends. (Mark 1:7-11)
The "Theophany" has inspired extraordinary reflection in the Tradition. Here is another excerpt from an early homily: "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." (St. Maximus of Turin, 423 AD)
Yesterday we reflected on the "wise men" from the East who followed the light to the fullness of Divinity who humbled Himself to share in our humanity. From antiquity, the Christian church has pointed to this "Manifestation" in the river of Jordan, this "Epiphany" in the waters, as the event wherein the full plan of God for His Church and the entire creation was manifested or revealed. We are called to become a "manifestation", an "epiphany" of God in a world stumbling along in the darkness of sin. That is what we celebrate today.
The Baptism of Jesus manifests the very life of the Holy Trinity to the whole world and opens the door, through Jesus Christ, into a "communion", a participation in the life of the Trinity through Baptism into His Body, the Church. The waters of the Jordan are sanctified by the Son and now all water is sanctified. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the original creation, the Spirit hovers over the waters where the Son is immersed by John. This is the reason why in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the clergy often lead the faithful to rivers and entire rivers are blessed!
One of the first elements of creation created by the Father through the Son, is now re-created through the Incarnate Son. The Word Incarnate stands in the waters of the earth which was created through Him. Into these waters, through which the people of Israel were once delivered, the entire human race is now invited to follow Jesus. What was once the means of God's judgment and purification at the time of Noah, fills the Baptismal fount where men and women are delivered from sin and made new!
The Church is given new waters for her saving and sanctifying mission. The Trinity, the Communion of Divine persons in perfect unity, is revealed. In the great liturgical prayer of the East the Church proclaims: "When Thou, O Lord was baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest... O Christ our God who has appeared and enlightened the world, Glory to Thee." In his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus is not sanctified for He is without sin, we are capacitated now in Him to become "sons (and daughters) in the Son".
The Theophany also reminds us that all of creation will be redeemed! As Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, creation itself "groans" for that full redemption (Romans 8:28). This belief in the full redemption of creation, of a new heaven and a new earth, is integral to the Christian faith. Christians are NOT anti-matter. We profess in our ancient creed that we will await the resurrection of our bodies and life in a "world to come."
The Feast of the "Theophany", the Baptism in the Jordan celebrates the full salvation and sanctification of all matter as well. The Greek word for "Baptism" means to be immersed. Before it is all over, the entire world will be "immersed" in God and transformed. It will be freed from sin and made new!
Descending into the waters of the Jordan, Jesus, who shares our humanity, makes that living water flow with healing mercy. His Divine Life is now mediated through the Sacraments in the life of the Church which is His Body. The Word descends and begins the re-creation of the universe.
This is an ongoing work which will only be complete when He returns. We who are baptized into Him are called to participate in this ongoing redemptive mission. The public mission and ministry of Jesus began at the waters of Jordan. However, it continues through His Church, of which we are made members through Baptism.
We are invited on this great Feast to live our lives in the "Theophany" of the God who is a Trinitarian communion of Perfect love. The Christian vocation, no matter what our state in life, is to reveal the Love of the Trinity to the entire human race in order to bring them to the Waters of Baptism into New Life in the new humanity of the Church which is Christ's Body. There, joined in Him we participate in His ongoing redemptive mission until He returns to make all things new.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord, Theophany, Christian living, Prayer, discipleship, Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, breviary, Liturgy of the Hours, Deacon Keith Fournier
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