Christ is baptized! In the Jordan!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’”
Today, the glad tidings of the angelic choir and the joyful Gospel they announced that night over the Judean hillside to the shepherds continues to echo abroad as the Church celebrates the great and awesome Mystery or Theophany of God Himself in His most glorious Son, our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ!
The hope of our Lord’s Nativity and its glory beams forth unabated as those who sat in darkness now behold a great Light and those who sat in the region and shadow of death, long enslaved and held captive by sorrow, to them, declares the Prophet, Light has sprung up! These benighted souls now behold with their own eyes God’s true and brilliant Light in the face of His most beloved Son, “Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten not made; of one essence with the Father” (Mt. 3:13; 2 Cr. 4:6-15; Nicene Creed)! “’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!,’” the angelic bands sang that most holy and still night of our Lord’s Nativity (Lk. 2:14). God’s glory for this world and for us sinners is now made manifest in the only-begotten Son, enfleshed from the womb of the Ever-Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and baptized with waters of repentance though He Himself had no need of repentance for He is without sin (Hb. 4:15; 1 Pe. 2:22). In Jesus Christ the Son of God, God draws near to us sinners and announces to us, “’Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’” He continues what the Forerunner and Baptist John had started before Him (Mt. 3:2). However, what John announced was in anticipation of the One mightier than he Whose shoes he was not worthy to bear, Who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with purifying fire (Mt. 3:11-12). Now, the One mightier than the Forerunner and Baptist has appeared bringing salvation to all men (Ts. 2:11). This Jesus is not only the purveyor of God’s Kingdom, but He is Himself the embodiment of the very Kingdom of God He preaches! “’Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’” Repent, for the fire of God Himself burns here in our midst! Repent, for God in the flesh of man pierces time and history to strike the hearts and souls and minds of men and to introduce us sinners to His Kingdom of purity and perfection. He invites us by continual repentance and humility to partake of the power of His Kingdom which is none other than the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the Giver of Life” (Nicene Creed) – the consuming fire of Heaven (Dt. 4:24; Hb. 12:29) foretold by the Baptist and Forerunner with which the Son of God would baptize and purge all who humbly submit to Him their souls for rest:
’Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I AM meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light’ (Mt. 11:27-30).
Beloved, let us not doubt this Kingdom announced by our Lord and preached by His Apostles is itself here present in the Church along with its divine and saving power of grace. Indeed, what does Jesus Himself say to some others who once demanded to know about this Kingdom? “’The Kingdom of God cometh not with outward show,’” He says. “’Neither will they say, “Lo, it is here!” or “Lo, it is there!” For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you’” (Lk. 17:20-21). And what of the priest? Does he not announce like a herald the truth and the reality of the Kingdom of God present in the Divine Liturgy when he intones at the out start, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Hoy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages”? All the more reason to heed the Wisdom and to attend: “’Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’”
Beloved, let us not be like some others approached by St. Paul who had been baptized with John’s baptism of repentance, but had not even heard of or had known that there was any Holy Spirit, the purifying and enlightening fire of Heaven (Ac. 19:1-7)! What our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ embodies, God the Holy Spirit imparts to us believers who bow in humble repentance at the Presence of the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst! He infuses us with the power of God’s spiritual grace just as He did our first father when He breathed into him the Spirit and he became a living soul (Gn. 2:7)! For what does the Apostle tell us? “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels,” he says, “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” despite all that we may experience to the contrary, experiences that may falsely tempt us to believe and to live our lives otherwise (2 Cr. 4:6-15)! Beloved, it is the power of God’s Kingdom, communicated to us through God the Holy Spirit Whom we receive through the Mystery of our Lord’s most holy and precious Body and Blood, which comes to us and upon us. It is God’s Kingdom – the power and grace of the All-Holy Spirit Who comes to make His abode in the manger of our soul; to lay His holy head, if you will, upon the pillow of our heart; to infuse us, if we are willing and submissive to Him, with His own divine Self, even as the Prophet has declared elsewhere (Ac. 2:38; Rm. 8:15; 1 Cr. 2:12; 1 Th. 4:8). “’Not by [man’s] might nor by [man’s] power, but by My Spirit,’ saith the Lord of Hosts” (Zc. 4:6). “’Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’”
Beloved, we may see ourselves as powerless, but the spiritual truth of the matter is this: we have been granted the true power of God’s grace in the Holy Spirit imparted to us at our Baptism into the Lord Jesus! We are no longer victims of our sinful passions or slaves to sin to obey its stirrings, the Apostle St. Paul counsels us. But rather having been set free by the Son of God, by Whom we are free indeed (Jn. 8:34-35), we have become servants of God and slaves to His righteousness to offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, to be consumed with His holy fire from Heaven and endued with His power from on High (Lk. 24:49; Rm. 6:1-23; 12:1-2)! Indeed, because the Kingdom of Heaven penetrates us, we have become “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rm. 8:37)! “’Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’”
Beloved, let us not mistake this spiritual reality of the Kingdom’s presence in our lives for triumphalism or a false naïveté which ignores the obvious at the peril of our souls. For Wisdom Himself declares that the Kingdom of God is given to those who “’struggle to enter into it’” and “’take it by force’” (Mt. 11:12; Lk. 16:16). We are cautioned by the Apostle that entrance into the Kingdom of God is “through much tribulation” (Ac. 14:22) which is really like unto our Lord and Master Himself, is it not, Who endured “for us men and for our salvation” His Great and Holy Passion and Death (Nicene Creed; Anaphora)? But, these sufferings, beloved, do not belie the divine power of God present to us and the grace of the Holy Spirit in us to preserve us in the raging tempest that engulfs us and to bear us up upon the boisterous waves that threaten to devour us; to embolden us to persevere in faith, hope, and love, one day and one step at a time. “’But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,’” says Christ, our King and our God Himself, “’and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’” (Mt. 6:33-34). Indeed, Sacred Scripture assures us:
Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we also have our access by faith into this grace in which we stand. And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God! Not only this, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who was given to us (Rm. 5:1-5).
This transformation or transfiguration of mortal men and women, who have been buried with Christ God in His Baptism and raised up from the dead with Him to live in the newness of His Resurrection Life, is the ultimate goal of our God for us sinners from before the foundation of the world (Rm. 6:1-11; 2 Cr.3:18; 4:6-16)! Thus, God has mercifully bestowed His gifts upon us in order to receive His heavenly Kingdom, live in its presence and power, and so be “changed into the same image, from Glory to Glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cr. 3:18) “until we all come into the unity of the Faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect Man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ep. 4:7-13).
“’Repent,’” beloved in Christ, ‘’for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’”
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Ep. 4:7-13 // 2 Cr. 4:6-15
Mt. 4:12-17 // Mt. 11:278-30