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Sermon on Theophany 2019
fr_basil
SERMON FOR THEOPHANY
January 6, 2019
St John Chrysostom asks: “Why is this day called ‘Theophany?’ Because Christ made Himself known to all on this day, on the day He was baptized, and not on the day He was born.  Before this day He was not known to the people. And to demonstrate that the people did not know Who He was, John the Baptist says: "In your midst stands Him Whom ye know not" (John 1:26). And how can it be surprising that others did not know Him, when even the Baptist himself did not know Him until that day? "And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit." (John 1:33).
When Jesus comes to the banks of the Jordan, he doesn’t just come to meet His cousin, He doesn’t just come to show Himself to the penitents standing there in the water, He doesn’t just come to fulfill the prophecies in Isaiah concerning John the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah, He doesn’t just come to find some who would become His disciples there, no, He comes to meet us! All of us. Just as Jesus descended into Hades to find all of those thousands or millions who were waiting for Him there, He first came to the Jordan to meet all of us who are waiting for Him here. Isn’t that wonderful?
John the Baptist said to everyone standing there: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Lamb of God comes to save the world, the whole world. It doesn’t mean the planet, it means all of us human beings. The God-Man comes to the Jordan to reveal Himself to us. This idea struck me hard last night at the Vigil service when during Matins we were singing “The Lord is God and hath appeared unto us.” The word “appeared” in the original Greek is “epefanen” like “epiphany!” Our Lord, Jesus, is GOD, and has appeared, has shown forth, to US at the Jordan, at His baptism by John! What a joy! What a miracle!
But that’s not all! Theophany is also the first clear revelation of God the Holy Trinity to the world. How do we know this? Because God the Father spoke from Heaven about the Son, the Son was baptized by Saint John the Forerunner in the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son in the form of a dove. God the Holy Trinity is clearly revealed!
I’d like to finish by saying just a few words about the icon of Theophany. The symbolism of this icon is very important for understanding the feast. First of all, Jesus is depicted as either totally naked, or nearly so. Why? Throughout the creation narrative in Genesis we see God creating and then declaring it “good.” Adam and Eve were created together in God’s image.  They were both beautiful, and while they lacked physical garments, they were clothed in the glory of the “image” and “likeness” of God.  However, when they fell into sin, they hid in shame until God brought them garments of skin to wear (which symbolizes the sinful, animal-like tendency that now obscures our true nature).  Their natural beauty was corrupted into an image of shame and object of lust.  Adam and Eve fell, and with them fell creation.
Now, we see Jesus Christ: he represents the second Adam (1 Cor 15).  In shame and nakedness, Adam hid.  Yet Christ comes in his majesty, both as God and man, both in glory and nakedness, completely unashamed, representing the beauty of the undefiled human being, made possible through Him.
We see the beginning of a new creation in Theophany.  Things are being set right.  Christ has come not only to cleanse and restore mankind, but to adopt us as heirs into his Kingdom.  And when we receive His glory, not only are we redeemed, but we draw all of creation with us into the final restoration.  That is why “creation groans” in eager expectation, awaiting the manifestation of the children of God. (Rom 8)
At the top of the icon we see the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form a dove. The Holy Spirit is depicted in a divine mandorla pointing downward.  In this manner, says St. Gregory Palamas, “The Father, using His own pre-eternal and consubstantial and supercelestial Spirit as His finger, calls out and points from heaven, openly declaring and proclaiming to all that the One being baptized by John in the Jordan was His beloved Son, while at the same time manifesting His unity with Him.” (St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 60.15).  St. John Chrysostom emphasizes that the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descends upon us so that we can ascend with Christ and the Spirit to the Father in Heaven. For the first time since the fall of mankind, the Heavens were opened to us.
The angels on the right side are waiting to attend and dress him after the baptism, reminding us of the Psalm “The Lord is King, He is clothed with majesty” (Psalm 93:1). John the Baptist, while baptizing Jesus is usually turned away or looking at the Spirit descending upon Christ.  This signifies that Theophany is about elevating Jesus Christ. John seeks no glory for himself. In fact, John seeks the opposite, saying: “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). This is the revelation of John’s great humility. There is an axe leaning on a small tree near John the Baptist, which reflects his warning that our lives must bear fruit or else we will be removed like a tree is removed with an axe. Jesus is not submerged in the water, for creation was baptized in Him, not vice versa.
Lastly, the strange little men or creatures riding fish at the bottom of the icon represent the Jordan River and the Sea, both fleeing at the sight of something much bigger and greater than themselves entering the water.  As the Psalms say:  “The waters saw Thee, O God, the waters saw Thee and were afraid; the deeps were troubled” (Psalm 76:15) and “The sea beheld and fled, [the River] Jordan turned back” (Psalm 113:3).
At Theophany the Church invites us to renew ourselves in Christ, through this celebration of His baptism, and by the Blessing of Water. He steps into the water not because He needs it, but because we need it. Let us thank God for His wonderful revelation to us! Let us, brethren, learn from our Savior, who, having no sin, nonetheless came to John in order to be baptized by him; let us learn from Him the God-pleasing and fragrant virtue of humility, without which, as the holy fathers have said, no other virtue whatsoever can be attained.
Amen.