Holy Theophany, January 6, 2013
The Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
A recording of this sermon is available via Ancient Faith Radio.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
If Christmas is that moment when the Creator of the universe arrives on the scene to reclaim the territory stolen from Him by Satan, then Theophany is the first all-out assault on the powers of darkness. So why isn’t Theophany a much bigger blip on the radar of Christians today?
In a 2009 survey by the Barna Group, who do research on faith and culture, it was found that 59% of American Christians agreed with the statement “Satan is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” Most Christians in America do not believe that Satan is a real, personal being. Perhaps even more shockingly, almost the same number (58%) believe that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence” but “not a living entity.”
These attitudes may partially explain why Theophany isn’t a big deal to many American Christians. The voice of the Father speaks from the Heavens, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove on the Son of God being baptized. The Holy Trinity is trampling down the influence of Satan and his demons in a public, powerful way. But if you don’t really believe in the Holy Spirit and you don’t really believe in Satan, then, well… so what? We just had Christmas, right? What’s the big deal about Jesus getting baptized?
To understand this remarkable feast, a feast which by liturgical standards is second only to Pascha and outranks Christmas, and to understand why it seems to make so little impact on so many, we have to take a look inside what’s really going on here. We have to ask some big questions about creation and redemption, about what happened to the creation and what it’s being redeemed from and how Theophany accomplishes that.
If you came to Great Vespers last night and listened to the first of the thirteen Old Testament readings, you were brought back to the very beginning of it all, the moment when God created everything. You listened to the first thirteen verses of the book of Genesis, which describe the first three days of creation, including the creation of light and darkness, the beginning of time, the creation and separation of the waters on the earth from the land, and finally the creation of the plants.
Creation’s first moments are elemental and primal, the very beginning of everything we know and experience. And what is present there at that first beginning, the beginning of all beginnings? Earth, water, light and darkness. It is the most basic, most foundational stuff of the physical universe, and it is God Who brings them into being. Later revelation would illuminate mankind that the Holy Trinity’s creation of this world was in and through the Son of God, Who would become incarnate of the Virgin Mary in the fullness of time.
So in the Son of God, we have to see not only the heroic Savior Who comes to rescue mankind but also the sovereign Creator, through Whom and by Whom and for Whom the creation was made. This place is His. He made it. And so when it came time for the Holy Trinity to express the ultimate in divine love for the creation, it is the Son of God Who becomes incarnate—that is, He becomes created while yet remaining uncreated. He takes on createdness into His uncreated Person.
When Adam and Eve sin, the design that the Creator had given to the creation is rejected by our primordial parents, and the creation instead is subjected through them to another design, the design of Satan, communicated initially to Eve by the snake who successfully tempts her and through her, Adam himself. Mankind was designed to be creation’s priest, mediating between the creation and the Creator to keep the creation in harmony with the Creator. But when Adam and Eve subject themselves to Satan’s design rather than God’s, their intimacy with creation also subjects the whole of creation to this new design—and it is not the design of freedom and beauty and creativity and holiness that God gave it, but of the slavery and and ugliness and selfishness and mindless tediousness of Satan.
That is why when the Son of God arrives in creation as part of creation by becoming a man, that moment is nothing less than the arrival of conqueror Who has come to take back what is His own, with all the fierce love and desire that only come when a man defends his homeland and his family from a domineering invader. We are not only His family—His children, His brothers and sisters and friends, but this Earth is also His own land, His own place that He created and saw both beautiful and good from the beginning.
So this brings us to Theophany. With the great feasts of the Annunciation and the Nativity of Christ, we have established the Incarnation—that the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, has become truly a man—and in the great feast of Theophany, we see the Incarnate God begin His reclamation of the very universe itself. He comes to be baptized today not to fulfill a Jewish ritual or to draw attention to John the Baptist, but to bring His holiness in contact with the elemental, primal stuff of creation—earth and water, swirling about in that muddy Jordan River—and to imbue them with His own presence, with His own divine energy, His own holiness.
And it is from the blessing of that water that the blessing now goes out. Its primary purpose is to begin the re-creation of mankind, to baptize humanity so that we might also put on Christ. Christ is baptized to begin Christian baptism. He enters into the water to put into it what we now receive when we enter into it. And how does He accomplish this? It is done because of Who He is, but it is also with the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
This is why this feast is called Theophany, a word meaning “the appearance of God,” because here for the first time in the history of time itself are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit made plain to the creation. Here we find the very fountain of all of our prayers, both for our own souls and bodies and for the blessing of all the material creation. Christ entered into the water so that water could again become what it was destined to be from the beginning—the means of communicating God’s presence to this world.
And so from today this water will go out. This water will go out to baptize the nations. This water will go out to bless your homes. This water will go out to heal the sick. This water will go out to bring blessing and sanctification to every corner of creation, carried there by those who have become the very extension of the Incarnation of the Son of God—you and me, brothers and sisters! It is we who carry this holy water throughout the creation to reclaim it from Satan, to rip it away from bondage to our enemy, to renew it all again in the energy and power and life of the Holy Spirit, by the Word of the Father, the Word of God Who has become flesh and dwelt among us.
This is the meaning of Theophany. If at Christ’s Nativity we are introduced to the great Captain of our holy hosts of people who bear within them the Resurrection, then it is at Theophany that He leads us into that great cosmic battle.
And it is a battle. We cannot afford to take this lightly. We cannot afford to try to tame this and domesticate this and “fit” it somewhere “into” our lives. This is our life. This is our only hope. We fight this battle for our eternal souls. We fight this battle for our wives and husbands and parents and children and brothers and sisters and friends. We fight this battle for the whole of the universe, for the whole cosmic order, to bring everything—not just this one place, this one room—but everything, every little thing, every great thing and everything in between back into harmony with the One Who created us and loved us from the beginning.
This is Theophany. This is the beginning. As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You have put on Christ. You know what to do.
To Him therefore be all glory, honor, power and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.