Catholic by Choice

Theophany Baptism of the Lord INSIDE.jpgLast Sunday, in the Western Church, we remembered the “Manifestation” to the Gentiles, the Feast of the Epiphany. 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. The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation”, it is a making present, a revealing.

Yet, from antiquity, the Christian church has pointed to this “Manifestation” in the river of Jordan, as the event wherein the full plan of God for His Church and the entirety of creation itself is made manifest. It is not only the beginning of the Lord’s “public ministry”, it is the beginning of the new creation, re-constituted in Him. He is the first born of a new creation. You and I follow Him into those waters.

The beloved disciple John wrote in His first letter: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

We shall be like Him for we shall “see” Him as He is? How?  When we live in Him, growing in holiness and manifesting His glory for others. This process of conversion and transformation begins at our Baptism. He initiates the relationship, and it continues through our communion with Him in prayer, learning and living His Word, receiving the Sacraments and living our life in the Church. 

Through our baptism we are “incorporated” into Christ. We enter into His “Mystical Body”, the Church. We now live in Him for the sake of the world. We begin to see Him as He is and in the continuing encounter which that mystery entails, we become “like Him” for others. We become a “manifestation”, an “epiphany” of God in a world stumbling along in the darkness of sin. We become immersed in God when we live our lives in Christ.

The word “Epiphany” is not often used in Eastern Christianity, Orthodox or Catholic. It is replaced by the word “Theophany”, which in Greek literally means the “manifestation of God.” The Theophany speaks to the vocation of the Church and of every Christian to be immersed in God and bring the whole human race and the world along with us.

The Apostle Peter writes in his second letter to the dispersed early Christians that we become “partakers of the divine nature”. (2 Peter 1:4) The Baptism of Jesus reveals the Holy Trinity to the world. The heavens open, the voice of the Father speaks to the Son and the Spirit descends! We are invited into a participation in that life of the Trinitynow, through Baptism into Jesus Christ!

The waters of the Jordan are sanctified by the Son. In the first creation, God created the heavens and the earth through the Son. Now, that Son come among us as a man goes down into those waters and re-creates the world. From antiquity, the Church has found a deeper meaning in this Baptism in the River Jordan. Symbolically, all water is sanctified when God the Son is immersed into it. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the original creation, the Spirit now hovers over these waters when the Son, through whom the entire universe was made, is immersed. (Genesis 1:9/ St. John 1:1-5)

In Eastern Christian Churches, when this feast is celebrated, waters are blessed. The clergy lead the faithful to rivers and bless the waters. Into these waters, through which the people of Israel were once delivered, the entire human race is now invited to follow Jesus in every Baptismal Font, in every Church, for all eternity. This kind of symbolic action reveals the deeper mystery of the Feast.

In Christ, all water has been sanctified. What was once the means of God’s judgment at the time of Noah has become the fountain where men and women are delivered from sin and made new! The heavens open and the Holy Spirit appears as a sign of the beginning of the new creation in each new life. Through Christ’s Baptism the waters of the whole earth have been sanctified and the Church is given new water for her saving and sanctifying mission. The Church is the Ark of the New Covenant.

In the waters of the Jordan, 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. He is the Holy One who makes us holy as we choose to enter into communion with God through Him. We become “sons (and daughters) in the Son. He descends into the waters of the Jordan River and begins the new creation. We are now invited to follow Him as He “makes all things new.”

The waters of Baptism now flow with mercy. The Creator who spoke those waters into being through the Son, in Him condescended to take on our humanity and be immersed in the waters of the Jordan! Once, the Spirit hovered over the waters. Now the Word Incarnate descends into Jordan’s water making it holy.

In this Baptism, He begins the re-creation of the universe. We who are now baptized into Him are called to share in this work. The public mission and ministry of Jesus began at the waters of Jordan. It continues now through His Church. As sons and daughters of that Church, we carry on His public ministry through time into eternity. We are invited on this great Feast to learn to live our lives immersed in God and reveal the Love of the Trinity to the entire human race.