Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Let Us Receive 'The Blessing of the Jordan'

Dear Parish Faithful,

"For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men ... awaiting our blessed hope, the appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ..."  (Titus 2:11-13)

To use its full title, yesterday evening we celebrated THE THEOPHANY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, a title that we usually summarize as "Theophany" (sometimes "Epiphany").  With just about sixty(!) worshippers in the church for the Feast, we can then truly say that our communal celebration was festal.  Truly, an excellent beginning to the New Year.  The Theophany commemorated on January 6, is actually the original date on which the Lord's Nativity was observed, together with the Visitation of the Magi, and the Baptism of Christ.  This nexus of events are distinct "theophanies," or "manifestations of God" to the world, each of which reveals the presence of Christ as a light illuminating the world, as well as being the long-awaited Messiah and Savior.  It was in the 4th c. that our current Christmas day of December 25 was established slowly throughout the Christian world.  The Nativity of Christ was a more hidden theophany; while the Baptism was more open in nature.

From the appointed Epistle reading of the Feast, TIT. 2:11-14, 3:4-7, we learn of two "appearances" (the Gk. word is epiphania) of Christ:  basically His Incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, and His Parousia, or Second Coming.  Thus, the first appearance was in the past; while the second will be in the future. The first appearance was in humility; the second will be in glory. We live in the present, between these two appearances. We commemorate the one, and await the other. And our mode of life should reflect the fact that we have been baptized "into Christ."  

In his Epistle to Titus, the Apostle Paul refers to this baptism as "the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (3:5).  The purpose of this baptism was "so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life" (3:7).  The appearance of the grace of God and the grace that we receive in Baptism is "training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world" (2:12).  Baptism essentially allows us - by the grace of God - to transcend our biological mode of existence; so that we are now open-ended beings capable of transformation by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  Although subject to our biological condition, we are not enslaved to it, with "no exit" in sight. That is a potential gift unique to human beings.

At the Third Royal Hour for Theophany, we heard a beautiful passage from the Prophet Isaiah, who anticipated the transforming power of Baptism and the mode of life that would accompany it:

Thus says the Lord: "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before My eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless; plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:  though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."

The Baptism of the Lord is directly related to our own personal baptism.  This was prophetically delivered to Israel; anticipated by John's baptism in the River Jordan for the "remission of sins;" and now actualized in the Church each and every time that a person - infant, child, adolescent, adult - "puts on Christ" in the sanctified waters of the baptismal font. The Feast of Theophany brings that to life for us as we now, as then, receive the "blessing of the Jordan."

The Leavetaking of Theophany is not until January 14. That means that we continue to celebrate the Feast this Sunday at the Liturgy.  We will again have the Great Blessing of Water immediately following the Liturgy with our Church School present.

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