Sermon - Feast of Theophany
Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7/Matthew 3:13-17
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a glorious Feast!
My brothers and sisters in Christ:
Today, we come to celebrate the beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry. Prior to this day, those things that were part of His life were relegated to knowledge only to Him and His parents. Today, all of this changes. The Sinless One comes to submit Himself to the ritual that is set aside to remit sins. But our Lord’s purpose in this was more than submitting Himself to baptism. Rather, His presence in Jordan submits the world to being baptized by Him. God the Son enters the waters of Jordan, and the Son is not changed, but rather the nature of water is changed. Water always had been that which gives earthly life. Today, water is sanctified by the Creator to change it into something that will bring eternal life to those who, in faith, come to be washed spiritually by it, to be "born of water and the Spirit". (John 3:5)
In a wonderful sermon from Metropolitan Philaret, he takes the opportunity to ask us – all of us – "Do you remember your baptism?" Certainly many of us would say, “How can I? I was only weeks old!” While this is true in the physical sense, the Church asked you questions on that day, and you answered those questions – for all time. On that day, the Church asked you, “Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his service, and all his pride?” And you responded, “I do renounce him.” You breathed and spat upon him, showing your utter contempt for the great deceiver.
If you were baptized as a child, you will say, “But Father, those questions were answered for me by my God-parents.” But I say in return to you, their answers were not proxies – they were giving voice to your own heart’s desire to unite yourself to Christ. Later in that same service, you were asked specifically that question. “Have you united yourself to Christ?”, and you responded, “I have united myself to Christ!”
As we move in today’s service to the Great Blessing of Water, we offer a prayer within that service that says, “Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your works, and there is no word sufficient to hymn Your wonders!” This same prayer is offered at every baptism over the water into which the Catechumen is to be immersed.
And so, it is right and proper for us, especially on this day, to remember our own baptism, to give thanks to God for that day, to recall the promises that we made to God, even if by way of the lips of those who held us and loved us. We need to remember the vows that we took on that day, promising to be fully united to Christ, and to be fully disconnected from Satan and his hordes. Remember that on the Day of Judgment, our vows will not be forgotten by our Lord. Ergo we dare not forget them ourselves!
Our renunciation of Satan is an ongoing battle while we are in the world. Face it – the world bombards us on all sides. Look here. Taste this. Hear that. Judge this. Feel anger over that. Be offended. Be ashamed. Be proud. Take charge. Exercise authority. Belittle those who get in the way.
In our renunciation of Satan, we are to set aside such behavior in our lives. We promised our Lord that we would not allow such passions to hold sway in our lives.
On the positive side, we promised Him that we would put Him above all other concerns in our lives. Putting Him first, we would be charitable, loving, caring, forgiving, diligent, humble, prayerful, quiet, at peace, filled with the overwhelming desire to praise and worship Him at every opportunity.
Where in the world are we – individually and collectively, as a people – in this analysis? If we stand for judgment before Him tomorrow, what excuses will we offer for the choices we’ve made?
Yes, we come today to pray over water. Yes, we believe with all our hearts that our prayers will result in our Lord’s sending a blessing upon this water such that it will be effective in healing our physical and spiritual infirmities, and in providing a defense against the attacks of Satan, on our bodies, and in our homes.
But as we pray over this water on this day, let us also pray that our Lord strengthen us for this internal battle, that He gives us the strength to wage war with the powers that attempt to drag us into places where our vows from our baptism are forgotten, where we do not place emphasis on serving our Lord, but instead focus on serving self, which is the same as serving the enemy!
Saint Paul writes today to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.” But he continues immediately and without a break to join this to the view of our Lord’s return as he writes, “awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
The world knows our Lord, but rejects Him. Saint John the Forerunner says, “There stands among you One whom you do not know.” (Jn 1:26) Are we able to look at the world around us and conclude that even "in general" the average person "knows" Christ? And if truth be told, we can extend that question to those who sometimes enter the Churches! Indeed, I must ask myself, "Do I know Christ?"
We should ask how they, but especially we who call ourselves by His name, not know Him, when even inanimate creation knows Him. In some icons of the Feast, there are small creatures riding fish. These represent the Jordan and the sea, both of which ‘flee’ our Lord's baptism by the Forerunner. Tradition tells us that the waters of the Jordan reversed their flow seeing our Lord entering them to be baptized. Read the Psalms! 76:15 says, “The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You and were afraid; the abysses were troubled.” 113:3 says, “The sea beheld and fled, Jordan turned back.”
God’s created things took no vows. They were made by Him to be perfect, as were we. Creation was relegated to be part of our fallenness when we failed in Paradise. Our vows are promises to God, showing Him our eagerness to return to that place near to Him. Creation recognizes Him, and His authority. In the presence of their Creator, they tremble. But for our part, when we fail to follow through on our own promises, we neither tremble nor fear, and all too often we do not even repent.
Our baptism was a gift from our Lord so that we might show true repentance. There is one baptism for the remission of sins. But there are many re-baptisms, through our own tears, that avail much to returning us to communion, fellowship with God. Saint John Chrysostom teaches, "What rain is for seeds, tears are for those who are afflicted."
Are we ready to return to those vows we made so long ago? Do they still mean to us what they meant on that day? If we can answer “Yes!” to these questions, then we have set ourselves on the path to salvation.
It’s a glorious Feast!