Sunday, January 10, 2016

God Comes in History to Change Us


The Christmas season culminates in the celebration of "the Baptism of Jesus," known in the early Church (and still in the Byzantine tradition) as the TheophanyThe mystery of the Trinity is revealed as the Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove and the Father's voice is heard (theophany means the "appearance of God").

We see this event portrayed and written in images in the basic structure of the icon of Jesus's baptism. Let us note a few other details: Jesus is immersed in the waters, not for his own purification (he doesn't need it, obviously) but to consecrate the waters of the world by contact with his body and to begin the restoration of all creation as the New Adam. Jesus is naked (sometimes, as here, portrayed with a loincloth), which symbolizes the restoration of Adam's innocence before the Fall. Strange beasts and humanish forms under his feet symbolize the demons defeated by Jesus. John the Baptist gazes not at Jesus but at the Holy Spirit, corresponding to his own testimony in John 1:32-34. Angels wait upon the shore in adoration and in readiness to serve Jesus who is the Lord of all creation.

This is brief reading of the icon above. As we reflect on the important symbolism here, however, let us not be led to think that this is nothing more than a clever and imaginative mythological story. This imagery conveys the truth about a real event that happened to a real man, Jesus. This man is the answer to the human search for the Mystery that sustains everything and gives ultimate meaning to life.

God has answered the question of our hearts by entering our history as a man, giving His life to us, and accompanying us on the journey to our destiny, to live in the glory of His love forever. Christians receive the sacrament of baptism from Jesus, through His ministers, because God's love for the world and for every human person is not abstract, distant, cold and inaccessible. God has touched us in Jesus, our brother. His love enters our history and changes us.

Let us be grateful for our baptism, orfor those who do not yet know Himardently seek this encounter with the Mystery who heals and saves and brings the heart to fulfillment, this touch of God who has come to meet every person on their journey, and who will begin to draw to Himself whoever opens their heart and asks for the truth and beauty of life.