The Feast of the Baptism of Christ is also known as the Theophany (showing forth of God). It is one of the most significant moments in the entire Gospel story. Christ is revealed to all present as the Holy One of God; the Holy Trinity is explicitly manifested in the voice of the Father, the Holy Spirit’s anointing presence “in the form of a dove,” and in Christ, the Son; Heaven and earth are re-connected and the Creation revealed as holy once more. The waters of the river Jordan, once Israel’s entryway into the Holy Land, become the entry for all people into the divinizing light and life of God through Holy Baptism.
St. Gregory the Theologian (c. AD 329-390, feast day May 9) was one of the greatest of all Christian thinkers (sharing the designation “Theologian” with the Apostle St. John!). His thought was profound, partly because of his scholarship, but mostly because of his deep prayerfulness and humility before the mystery of God. This sermon is often read in conjunction with this Feast.
The excerpts of this sermon below show his understanding of this great mystery within the context of how we are to live it out by remembering our cleansing in Christ through Holy Baptism, and then the ongoing cleansing of our spirits through the Holy Sacraments, prayer, ascesis, study of the Sacred Scriptures, and the works of mercy God places before us daily. This is an essential element of authentic faith-sharing (evangelism): we may only share what we have ourselves received.
Through the baptism we celebrate today, we are made able to stand beside Christ the True Light and enjoy more and more its splendor by sharing in it—and sharing it with others.
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Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.
John is baptizing when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptizer; certainly he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.
The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: I ought to be baptized by you. He is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again. I ought to be baptized by you: we should also add, “and for you”, for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.
Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with God.
Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of humans, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all people, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.