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Homily for 1/18/04 - Theophany eve

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  • David Moser
    Mark 1:1-8 Make ready, O river Jordan: for behold, Christ our God draws near to be baptized by John, that He may crush with His divinity the invisible heads of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 18, 2004
      Mark 1:1-8

      Make ready, O river Jordan: for behold, Christ our God draws near to be
      baptized by John, that He may crush with His divinity the invisible heads of
      the dragons in thy waters. Rejoice, O wilderness of Jordan; dance with
      gladness, O ye mountains. For the eternal Life has come to call back Adam. O
      voice that criest in the wilderness, O John the Forerunner, cry out:
      'Prepare ye the ways of the Lord, make his paths straight.'

      This is the first hymn of the forefeast of Theophany that we hear chanted in
      the Church. It is from the vespers of the first day of the forefeast and it
      sets the tone for everything else that comes after. Today we stand at the
      threshold of the feast of Theophany or the Baptism of the Lord and these
      words apply today as much as they have since the beginning of the forefeast,
      4 days ago. The Forerunner came preaching the imminent coming of the Kingdom
      of God and calling the people to repent. He baptized them in the Jordan to
      cleanse them from their sins. This baptism was in accordance with a Jewish
      custom called a "mikvah" by which a person who was ritually "unclean" would
      by bathing shed his "uncleanness" and become "clean" again. John, preparing
      the way for the coming of the Promised One, preached the necessity of
      shedding any "uncleanness" that is any sin in order to meet the Messiah Who
      was coming. This washing was the baptism of John. Thus the river Jordan
      became the place where the Messiah entered into the land of Israel - just as
      many centuries ago the forefathers of the Hebrew people entered the promised
      land by crossing the Jordan.

      When our Lord came to John, there was of course no need for Him to be washed
      of any uncleanness and yet He commanded John to baptize Him anyway. The
      baptism of John was simply a ritual cleansing, only a symbol of the
      spiritual reality - just as the sacrifice and the whole temple ritual was
      only a symbol of the spiritual reality to come. These symbolic acts could
      not bestow grace, but were only rituals by which a person could repent of
      his sin and express his faith in the redemption promised by God. All of
      these rituals looked forward to the coming of the Promised One, the Messiah.
      When our Lord came to John, John recognized Jesus (just has he did in the
      womb) as the fulfillment of the Promise, the Messiah who would give
      substance to the symbols of his baptism and even of the sacrifice in the
      temple.

      When Jesus entered the water, was baptized and arose out of the water,
      something happened that had never happened before - the Holy Spirit
      descended upon Him in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father was
      heard confirming that this was His Beloved Son. The baptism of John was no
      longer a symbol for He Who fulfilled the promise touched this symbol and
      made it real. The very nature of baptism was changed - through the touch of
      Christ's divinity, this symbolic act became a divine act, a sacrament, a
      means by which the grace of God is bestowed upon a person. In the hymn we
      read a moment ago we heard how when Jesus descended into the water of the
      Jordan, His divinity crushed the demons lurking there and sanctified the
      water, reclaiming it for the Kingdom of God. Until this time, the demons
      prowled the earth, as lions hunting their prey. Men were powerless to defeat
      the lion and time and again fell prey to the captivity of sin. But there
      were those who looked for the coming of the Messiah Who would deliver them
      from this captivity and now He has come. By the mere touch of His divinity,
      the demons are crushed and the water is sanctified. Instead of the abode of
      demons, it now becomes a font of grace. Instead of merely promising
      redemption, the washing in the water actually accomplishes a change of
      condition. The body, the slave of sin, is touched by the water, sanctified
      by the God/Man Jesus Christ, and it is itself freed from its captivity, no
      longer enslaved to sin the body becomes the instrument of the soul in the
      working out of salvation. We are truly reborn, not just symbolically, but in
      reality.

      In His baptism, our Lord began reclaiming the world so that it would no
      longer be an vehicle of sin and temptation and enslavement to sin. Once
      sanctified by the touch of the Divine One, the world is able to be used
      instead as an aid for our salvation. For this reason, we take the water
      blessed and sanctified on this feast and with it, we "baptize" our world -
      we sprinkle it on ourselves, our homes, our possessions thereby reclaiming
      them for the Kingdom of God sanctifying them, making them no longer a
      vehicle of sin, but now something holy, something that will be for us a help
      for us as we walk the path of salvation.

      The Holy John cried out from the wilderness to all mankind - "Prepare ye the
      way of the Lord." This cry is not silent even today, for as we approach this
      feast, we prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of the Lord. Just
      as our Lord sanctified the water of the Jordan by His touch, so also He
      sanctifies our hearts by His touch - just as he gave substance to the symbol
      of baptism making it a sacrament, so also He gives us the same grace
      providing for the sacraments by which we receive His grace which transforms
      us and saves us. As we bless the water and partake of it - we partake of the
      grace of God. As we take this water to our homes and bless our homes with
      it - we sanctify our dwellings, dedicating them as a place set aside for the
      day to day, moment to moment worship of God. When we sprinkle our house with
      the Holy Water, it becomes as it were an extension of the Church, a place
      where God is, a place that is holy, a place that no longer is the abode of
      demons but now the residence of the saints, the Kingdom of God.

      Only a few days ago we greeting the coming of the God/Man Jesus Christ into
      the world - now He begins to sanctify the world and we joyfully welcome Him
      again with rejoicing - this time into our homes and our lives to begin to
      sanctify us.
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