The Feast of Theophany: God Sanctifies Creation

TheophanyEach year, January 6 commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by St. John, the Forerunner, Prophet and Baptist.  The Gospel text from St. Matthew reads,

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.  And John tried to prevent Him, saying “I need to be baptized by You, and You are coming to me?”  But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then he allowed Him.  When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.  And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (Mt 3: 13 – 17)

The feast is called Theophany because God was manifested to the world.  Here in the waters of the Jordan are manifested God the Son, in the person of Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the the voice of God the Father is heard.  The Trinity is self-declared before creation.  But more is accomplished than this revelation.  His baptism satisfies all righteousness, meaning all is made complete and whole.

First, consider baptism.  Our baptism in water brings sacramental union with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  From St. Paul’s letter to the Romans we read this:

Or are you ignorant of this, as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into his death?  We were buried together with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, thus also we might walk in newness of life.  For if we became united to the likeness of his death, we so shall be with his resurrection (Rom 6: 3 — 5)

By his Incarnation — God becoming fully human while remaining fully God — Christ has united himself eternally to humanity and material existence.  He has assumed every aspect of what it means to be human.  Jesus is God in every way, and human in every way.  But now, by his baptism to which he consents, he publicly and “sacramentally” declares this union of natures and identifies with us — to every aspect and weakness of our being — even death itself.  Now with the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, he is empowered to begin his ministry of our redemption from sin, alienation, and death.

By the miracle and mystery of the Incarnation, God the Son has become man, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we observed his glory, glory as the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:  14).  God is now in human flesh, and God now exists as a creature.  And, in and by his flesh, God contains within himself representative elements of all creation — elements of the universe.  St. Paul writes of this in two of his letters:

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather together all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph 1: 9 – 10).
He is before all things, and in him all things stand in their proper orders…because in him all the fulness was pleased to dwell (Col 1: 17, 19).

All of the created realm, all of humanity, by the Incarnation, exists in union in Christ.  He is microcosm — the universe is held in relational union in him!  All that had been scattered and lost, thrown into sin, alienation, and death has been gathered up in Christ and held in him!

Again, Christ consents to baptism to “fulfill all righteousness.”  And again, Christ is Microcosm — all is held within him — all is held in deity.  But now, by his baptism, Christ extends his deity to all of creation.  All of creation is sanctified anew to be the home of a new and re-created people of God.  Paradise is restored to be ministered to by redeemed priests of God.  By his baptism the water of the Jordan River touches the skin of God.  Those representative water molecules which touched Jesus have moved across the face of the earth by river, ocean, and rain.  Water is sanctified.  Creation drinks in the touch of God.

There are other ways by which the created realm was touched by the God-man.  Mineral and complex organic compounds also touched the skin of God.  The hair of God fell to the earth to bless it.  But also the air we and all creatures breathe has been sanctified.  Here I move to a bit of human physiology:  tidal volume.  Tidal volume is the air moved in and out of the lungs with each breath at rest.  The tidal volume for adult lungs (and Christ’s lungs) is about 0.5 liter, less for children.  The average resting respiratory rate is about 15 breaths per minute.  Christ breathed 15 breaths per minute.  This means 7.5 liters of air moved in and out of the lungs of God every minute.  450 liters touched God every hour; 10,800 liters every day; 3,942,000 liters yearly; and over the course of his 33 years of his human life on earth 130,086,000 liters of air — oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide — were “divinized” by the lungs of God.  The atmosphere has, too, been sanctified.  By his baptism the cosmos itself is made whole an is renewed.

Theophany is the manifestation of the Triune God before humanity and creation.  The baptism of Christ begins his ministry, yet it is the unfolding of God’s self to all of creation.  This posting is concluded with a troparion, or hymn, of Theophany:

When Thou, O Lord, was baptized in the Jordan,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest;
for the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee,
and called Thee His beloved Son.
And the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself
and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee!

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus



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