A Blessed Festal Weekend of Theophany to all of you my dearest parish family…and what a weekend it has been! We began this past Friday with Vespers, the readings from the Old Testament, and the blessing of the Lijtia…the wheat, wine, and oil. We continued the celebration with Divine Liturgy yesterday and the blessing of waters for the New Year. And we gather together this morning to not only bless the Shiawassee River…to not only install our parish leaders as they begin the new year…to not only offer our prayers for our newest catechumen Bob…to not only share in fellowship and lamb…but to participate in the Divine and Glorious reality that has been bestowed upon us this weekend:
God is With Us…and has Revealed Himself to Us!
All of the wonderful and life saving mysteries that we participate in week in and week out, were made possibly by a Divine Ministry that began today with the Holy Feast of Theophany.
Our Lord spent 30 years, dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, 3 full decades of living a relatively quiet and normal life just like you and me. He lived as a child and a son to Joseph and the Theotokos. He got dressed in the morning. He played with other children. He studied as an apprentice.
Our Lord was also not a stranger to the difficulties that humanity faces in the midst of sin. He watched and witnessed the damaging realities of the fallen world. He lived in the midst of the same sorrows that we find ourselves in each and every day of our lives. He no doubt watched as friends and family members got sick. We know that at some point during those thirty years, our Lord had to deal with the passing of his earthly father Joseph, who was already advanced in age at the time of His birth.
There is a temptation for us sometimes, as there was with Job the sufferer in the Old Testament, that God doesn’t understand our plight. We are tempted to believe that He is on a different plane of existence than us…like the ancient Greeks believed with their pagan God’s lived up on Mt. Olympus. We sometimes say in our minds:
“God doesn’t understand our hardships in this life. He doesn’t know what it is like to lose a loved one, or to take care of someone who is gravely sick or ill.”
We forget that for most of His earthly existence…Christ was our brother. He shared in our sorrows, our weaknesses, our temptations, our suffering, and eventually…even our death. He stood beside us as Immanuel…God WITH US. He is approachable. He is available. He is accessible to us. Today, we celebrate and are reminded of the day that this wonderful reality became known to the world.
Several members of our congregation had a chance to visit the very sight where God’s manifestation to the world occurred. Although the Jordan river is very wide at some points, just a few miles up from the dead sea, there is a point where it narrows to about 30 feet wide, and is perhaps 3 or 4 feet deep at the center. It is so narrow in fact, that if you are standing on Israel’s bank, you could very easily start a conversation with someone who is standing on the Jordanian side of the river (provided you don’t get into trouble by the border patrol!)
It was at this narrow point of the river all of those years ago, that St. John was standing in the midst of the water and preaching about repentance to the many people who were gathered on the banks. And in the midst of all of this…a quiet and humble man who no one had ever seen or heard of before, steps down into the river in order to be baptized.
At that moment, if I can Christianize a popular phrase which is surprisingly fitting, ”All heaven breaks loose”. The moment that Christ comes up from the water…the heavens open up, and a loud, powerful, and booming voice comes from the sky…from the uncreated God Himself. He doesn’t say much. He proclaims one simple message for the entire world to hear:
“This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
So profound…and so perfect. What does God say so clearly to the world? What does He want us to know? The identity of this man who is standing in front of John.
As we said yesterday at the entrance for the Feast: “God is the Lord, and has revealed Himself to Us.” And that one moment knocked the entire world off of it’s axis. We feel the effects of the Epiphany even today, because the light and the healing that came upon the Human Race on that day…the manifestation and the revelation that God had spent years living and experiencing mankind in a very personal and real way…changed our lives Forever.
God is WITH US and has experienced first hand our plight as Human Beings. When we are diagnosed with a terminal illness, and are suffering from the side effects of the treatments…God is With us as our Eternal Hope and Physician.
When we suffer from depression and we feel as if we are stuck in the middle of a dark tunnel, unable to see or unwilling to continue to the light which shines at the end of that tunnel…God is With us as our Guide.
When we have the sudden loss of a beloved family member and our thoughts are flooded with the moments that we will no longer be able to share with them while on this earth…God is With us as our comforter.
When we will have our memorial service in a few weeks for all unborn infants who have passed on to eternal life in the womb…for all of those that will be present and who are suffering…whose lives seem like such a dark and dreary place…God is With us as our Light, our Warmth, and our Salvation.
Rejoice in this day dearest brothers and sisters in Christ. Give glory and praise that we have a God who undeniably loves us…and more importantly…understands us. Theophany is a reminder to the entire human race that no matter how difficult life can be, no matter how many trials and tribulations are thrown at our feet, God is With us. He is Here. And He has come to save the World!
Christ is Baptized! In the Jordan!