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Theophany: The Baptism of the Lord and the Christian Vocation
By Deacon Keith A Fournier
January 9th, 2009
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
“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."CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - In the Western Church we end the Christmas season with the Feast of the Lord’s “Baptism in the Jordan”. It marks the beginning of what is called his “public” ministry. He was thirty years old. He died His redemptive death at Golgotha when He was only thirty three. However, He also spent thirty redemptive years of life in what writers have sometimes called His “hidden years” in Nazareth’s school, “growing in wisdom and stature”. (Luke 2:52) They were not “hidden” in the sense of unimportant. It simply means that we do not find much about them in the Gospel accounts. However, they are rich with meaning, revealing the deeper truths of our faith and its invitation to each one of us who bear the name Christian.
Jesus, Perfect God and Perfect Man, the Incarnate Word, Son of God and Son of Mary, gave the same glory to the Father when he was working with wood in the workshop of Nazareth as he would years later when he raised a friend named Lazarus from the dead. From the moment of His conception, the Son of God recapitulated (to use a favored word of the great Bishop Irenaeus) the entire human experience, recreating and beginning humanity anew. During those years, in the hearth of a human family the Son of God sanctified and transformed every aspect of ordinary human life. His redemptive and transforming work began in the first home of the whole human race, His mothers womb. Jesus was a Redeemer in the Womb, beginning His Incarnation as an “Embryonic Person”, to use the phrase from the recent Instruction from the Holy See entitled “On the Dignity of every Human Person”. From within the Living tabernacle of the Womb of the All Holy Virgin, He began His redemptive mission.
This child of Mary's was born and heaven touched earth. We commemorated that Holy Nativity just days ago. Some of our brethren in the Eastern Church commemorated it this week. At the breast of his mother, He elevated the already holy wonder and dignity of the vocation of motherhood. In His sacred humanity he was nurtured, a sign of the beauty of the human experience of love, growth and maturation. He was raised by a 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 an 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)
Last week 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 entirety of creation itself is made manifest.We are called to become a “manifestation”, an “epiphany” of God in a world stumbling along in the darkness of sin.
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 Batism.
We are invited on this great Feast to live our lives now in the “Theophany” of the God who is a Trinitarian communion of Perfect love.The Christian vocation is to reveal the Love of the Trinity to the entire human racein 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 continue His mission until He returns to make all things new.
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