Sunday, January 10, 2021

THEOPHANY: The Dove, The Father's Voice, The "Beloved Son"

We rejoice and are filled with wonder on this great and glorious feast day! 

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 "Theophany." If we reflect on the icon here, we can understand better the significance of the event of Jesus's public participation in the "purification ritual" of John the Baptist, as recorded in the Gospels.

The emphasis is the mystery of the Trinity revealed, as the Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove and the Father's voice is heard ("theophany" is the "appearance of God"). 

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 readiness to serve Jesus who is the Lord of all creation. 

This is just a very brief reading of the icon. As we reflect on this symbolism, 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. He is revealed as the Father's Son, annointed by the Holy Spirit. These signs point to the opening up of God's Trinitarian Love to us, the Love that transforms us and brings all creation to its fulfillment.

"This is my beloved Son..." The voice of the Father singles out Jesus, and identifies Him in relation to human destiny. This man Jesus 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 therefore be grateful for our baptism, or - for those who do not yet know Him - ardently seek this encounter with the Mystery who heals and saves and brings the heart to fulfillment. Here is the "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.