Christ is baptized! In the Jordan!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, . . , that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the Prophet, . . . .
As we said last week, the Evangelist Matthew strives to make it a point to show that this Jesus is the fulfillment and the Fulfiller of the hope of the Prophets. We need look no further nor to anyone else for there is none other foretold by the Prophets of old. Jesus in His very Person and by His very life re-capitulates the history of Israel in order to redeem and to sanctify, that is, to save and make holy. Jesus fulfills the old in order to make new.
And yet, He is not some sort of robotic man Who has been pre-programed by His Father to follow without a free will some sort of pre-determined path. He is free to respond or not to respond, yet He is fulfilling the prophetic Word spoken of old by the Prophets. Having heard of His Baptizer’s incarceration by Herod Antipas, Jesus chooses to leave His hometown of Nazareth and heads to Capernaum in Galilee near to the Sea of Galilee. He travels further north and away from Jerusalem and the center mass of Israel. He takes up residence in Capernaum and it is there that He sets up His base of operations as He inaugurates upon John’s imprisonment His divine mission to baptize the world with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Mt. 3:11). “’I am come to send fire on the earth,’” Jesus once said, “’and how I wish it were already kindled!’” (Lk. 12:49).
Let us make no mistake: this is why the Father has sent His Son into the world! To purge and to purify with divine fire all souls; to ignite and set on fire the stubble and chaff of this world, to save and to sanctify and to preserve the gold and silver and precious stones from out of that stubble (1 Cr. 3:12-17). He has come as the Day Star to rise in our hearts, to disperse the darkness which swallows us up and threatens our very existence; the Sun of Righteousness that dawns over this whole world with healing in His wings (Ml. 4:2; Lk. 1:78-79; 2 Pe. 1:19; Rv. 2:28; 22:16)! To fulfill all prophecy, our Lord comes to the benighted land of Naphtali and Zebulun, to the far northern hinterlands of Israel where no light can penetrate and those who dwell there are described as the living dead. Here, to this very place and people, long on the fringes of society, the buffer zone between Israel and her invading enemies, Galilee of the despised Gentiles! Here, Jesus Christ, “Light of Light, true God of true God” (Nicene Creed) – God in the flesh of man – comes and abides where the sun doesn’t shine so that He may be the Light of the world which the darkness cannot comprehend or overcome (Jn. 1:5; 9:5). Jesus Christ, Son of Joseph and Mary, Son of the living God, is “the true Light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world” (Jn. 1:9). “’I am the Light of the world,’” this Jesus proclaims. “’He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the Light of Life’” (Jn. 8:12). Indeed, we shall have Jesus when we look to Him in faith. For “in Him [is] Life, and the Life [is] the Light of the world” (Jn. 1:4; 12:35). “’[T]he people who sat in darkness saw a great Light; and to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, Light has sprung up’” (Is. 9:1-2).
And so, this Jesus, Whose Nativity and Baptism we have just celebrated, comes into the world He has created (Jn. 1:10). He comes to us, His light shining in our darkness, to illumine our eyes so that we might see in His light as He Himself sees (Ps. 35 :9), and seeing, we might have His Life and walk in His light so that we might flee the terrible darkness enshrouding our lives, just as surely as ancient Israel fled the darkness of Egypt and Pharaoh’s bitter enslavement! Jesus comes preaching the same liberating message as His Forerunner, but now emblazoned with divine fire. “’Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’” (Mt. 3:2). The Kingdom of Heaven invades the darkness of this world with its most glorious Light. Indeed, He Who is Light eternal stands before us all and beseeches our repentance. “’Repent!’” Repentance is His life-saving command for us who sit in death. Do you want life? Repent! Do you want to be rid of your darkness? Repent! This is the turning point for us all. His Kingdom, which is Light and Life, now demands our attention and our repentance. This is how we break the shackles of our wills. This is how we enlighten our blind eyes. This is how the dead arise from graves of sin.
Repentance, beloved, is not to be relegated to those seasons of repentance and fasting in the Church year. It is the whole of the Christian life, the way of the baptized. Repent, for the Kingdom we long for is now here before us in Jesus Christ and His Church. “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” intones the priest, announcing that which we hope for is now here. And, what are we to do? Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repentance is always the proper attitude of the Orthodox Christian. It is the answer for what ails us all. Repentance is far from sour and dour like the world makes it out to be. It is a true joy and brings joy to all those who take its message to heart. Why? How? Because it sets us free and opens the doors to our healing. It is the entrance of salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven (St. Symeon the New Theologian). And is that not to be rejoiced in and relished? Why, then, would we flee from it and from its kissing cousin of confession? So often, though, it gets distorted and contorted in our thinking and bent all out of shape in our minds so that it becomes a most wearisome thing to us and we shrink from its healing and consolation. As soon as we repent, confessing our sins, we are anointed with the great mercy of God Himself Who has come down to us and among us in very flesh! Sin is the virus, repentance the vaccine. Sin is the illness unto death, repentance the healing unto Life Eternal (Rm. 6:23). Here is a case in which the divine remedy in our thinking or feeling appears far worse than sin itself! Yet, this is the beguiling of the devil to keep the world in his powerful grip (St. John Chrysostom; St. Nikon of Optina). Repentance, beloved, is an act of great love and mercy on our part when we, like the saints, offer repentance not solely for ourselves but for our neighbors as well. It is the perfection of love (St. Mark the Monk).
“’While you have the Light, believe in the Light, that you may become sons of light’” (Jn. 12:36). “’Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’” Brethren, so long as God gives us today, let us repent for love of His Kingdom and for the King Who sits enthroned therein. Let us not lose heart in this life. For, as St. Seraphim of Sarov tells us,
In spite of our sinfulness, in spite of the darkness surrounding our souls, the Grace of the Holy Spirit, conferred by Baptism in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, still shines in our hearts with the inextinguishable Light of Christ . . . and when the sinner turns to the way of repentance the light smooths away every trace of the sins committed, clothing the former sinner in the garments of incorruption, spun of the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Christ is baptized! In the Jordan!