Sermon ~ Feast of Theophany


The Gospel of Matthew 3:13-17

At that time, Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”


Today we celebrate one of the 12 great feats of the Church year, the feast of the Holy Theophany.

We read in the Tradition of the Church the about His 30th year Jesus came to the Jordan to meet his cousin John the Baptist to be Baptized by John in the Jordan.  At first John objects to baptizing Jesus by telling him that he needed to be baptized by John.  But in the end John did baptize Jesus.

Jesus did not need purification in the waters of the Jordan but by doing this he made the purification of humanity His own.  In the action of His baptism He would wash away our sin, grant us regeneration and He would reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  Jesus needed to be baptized, not in the same way that we need to be baptized, but to fulfill the righteous plan of salvation.

We heard in the reading from Genesis, at the Vespers service last night, that when God created the world the world was formless and covered in water.  Water is the first or primal element.  We humans are made up mostly of water and we need water, more than food, to survive.  When Jesus steps into the water He not only sanctifies the waters of the Jordan but he sanctifies all water and thus all of creation.  In the prayers that we will read when we bless this water, this will become all the more clear to us.

In that same reading last night we heard the story of creation and how the Spirit hovered over the water.  Now we see the Spirit come in the form of a Dove to anoint the one chosen by God, the Messiah, at the beginning of the New Creation.  Jesus does not become the Son of God on this day rather He is revealed to all as the Son of God, the Spirit has always rested on Him but on this day, the Holy Trinity is made manifest to the world.

At the Vespers service we read from Exodus, the story of the release of captivity of Israelites from the captivity of the Egyptians.  We read how they fled into the wilderness and were pursued by Pharaoh and his great army.  They were back up against the Red Sea with no escape, and God spoke to Moses and told him to raise his staff and the waters would part.  He did as God directed and the Israelites were able to walk “dry shod” through the sea to safety, but those who pursued them, those who were mired in their sins, did not make it as the water came back to engulf them.

The waters of the Red Sea saved those whom God had chosen, had freed them from their sins and their human captivity, their sin, or their captives, were left behind in that water and the people rose out of that water as a new people, a Holy Nation, freed from the captivity.  In the same way when we were lowered into the water of Baptism we were freed from what hold us to the earth.  Jesus sanctified the waters of the filthy world, as St. Gregory of Nyssa writes, and rose out purifying the entire creation.  As we rise from the waters of baptism, we rise as new creations.

This purification is foretold in the Prophet Isaiah, “Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they become crimson red, they may become white as wool!”

Through the ministry of Jesus we see the opening of the gates of heaven. Christ standing in the Jordan is Christ standing before the gates of paradise and Hades. In the icons of Christ’s Baptism, the gates of Hades lie beneath His feet we hear in the hymns of Vespers:

When You bowed Your head to the Forerunner, You crushed the heads of dragons; and when you stood in the midst of the stream, You let Your light shine upon all creatures, that they might glorify You!

Today the creator of all things comes to the earth and comes to be baptized in the Jordan.  Jesus who is free from all sin consents to be baptized in order to cleanse all of humanity from the error of the enemy.  The Creator of all is baptized by the hand of a servant so that he may grant all of humanity the cleansing through water and the spirit.  Today, the one who created all things, begins His ministry that will ultimately end in His death and resurrection that will complete what is begun today.

You have sanctified the streams of the Jordan and crushed the power of sin, O Christ our God!  You have bowed down Your head beneath the hand of the Forerunner and have delivered mankind from error.  Therefore we pray to You: Save Your word!

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