January 13, 2019

Sermon-The sunday after holy theophany

PASTORAL SERMON
The Sunday after Holy Theophany
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
January 13, 2019

Today’s gospel reading speaks of the arrest of John the Baptist and the
beginning of Christ’s ministry in the region of Galilee. Jesus withdrew to
Galilee to the area of Capernaum by the Sea, to the region of the tribes of
Zebulon and Naphtali; where the Gospel describes from the words of the
prophet: where the people “sat in darkness.” This area was not far from the
region of the Gadarenes – you may recall, where Jesus cast out the man with
demons; where the people became afraid to find the man who was delivered
to his right mind.

At the Feast of our Lord’s Holy Nativity, the celebration of His Birth,
we spoke of His coming (Advent) as the Light that shines in the darkness.
You may recall my reading to you the full context of the Prophesy of Isaiah
(9:2,6): The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that
dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined…
For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…

Those who are without Christ, are described in scripture as people
“in the dark.” They as spoken of as people: sitting in this condition with
a contentment. In other words: it was a condition that was preferred
from being enlightened; something they were comfortable with: being
willingly ignorant.

The Feast of Holy Theophany is also called: the Feast of
“illumination;” (something that also results from light). We who are
Christians are called those who “have seen the Light;” those who have
received the Light of Christ and are illumined in our hearts and minds by the
truth of the gospel; whose lives are enlightened.

Light reveals. It provides discovery and direction; so does the gospel.
The Light also authenticates one’s humanity and provides a vision that
enables one to see himself/herself in a relationship with his/her Creator.
Consequently, this light of illumination brings humility and leads you and I to
contrition and “a good confession.” “A good confession” is genuine and
sincere because the light reveals the inescapable and undeniable truth to the
one who is illumined. To ignore or to reject the truth, to live with lies, or to
practice lying is to choose darkness. It is also what is meant when a person is
called “delusional” or enjoys the craft of deception. The Fathers of the
Church, and specifically those who lived a life of repentance — in the desert
regions of the East and the northern wintry woods of Russia speak repeatedly
of what it is to “be deceived” in our Tradition.

And so, what we teach concerning repentance is very basic. It is
clearly the prerequisite to one’s being united to Christ and to our heavenly
Father, the true God: “Light from Light, very God of very God.” It is also a
daily and lifelong Christian practice in order for you and I to maintain being
united to Christ by His Spirit. With our Sacraments: nothing is taken for
granted, nothing is assumed, nothing is guaranteed, and nothing is assured
except Christ’s divine presence. For He promised that He would “never leave
us.” His promise to us is His Spirit. And what do we hear in today’s Epistle?
We hear the description of those who have been called to help and aid us:

…grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s
gift. Therefore it is said, “When He ascended on high He led a host of
captives, and He gave gifts to men.” … And His gifts were that some should
be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to
equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of
God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of
Christ.

John the Baptizer preached repentance, and so did the Lord Jesus
Christ. The difference is that in Christ we are united to God the Father with a
baptism of regeneration. The words of the prayers are: “the laver of
regeneration.” Something that occurs by washing. In other words it is not a
mere symbolic washing to be purified. In being baptized into Christ we
become a part of “The Body of Christ” on earth (“The Church”). And it is
precisely the Church (the dwelling place of Christ’s Spirit) where salvation is
known and experienced.

Today’s lesson ends with the words of Jesus saying, “Repent, for the
Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” There are two things that must be
understood by these words: first, that Christ is the King, and where the King
is there is the Kingdom. In other words, Jesus is saying: The Kingdom is
now in your midst! (Immanuel is God who has come in human flesh – the
King of the ages.)

But second, and more importantly (as it pertains to you and I today as
people who have been Baptized and Confirmed into Christ), God’s Kingdom
is not only here for us as we live in His presence. We have also received His
Spirit, living and dwelling in us! Therefore, our personal experience is far
more than what the Lord described to His listeners in his day. As
participants at the Table of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, our
reception of Holy Communion is not only a spiritual symbol (as was the
Passover meal to the Jewish people), but in a physical way provides the
most intimate means of being united with God. Also, our baptism is not a
mere physical washing, as it was for those who repented and were baptized
by John the baptizer, it is our full participation in dying and being buried with
Christ, and rising with Him in Resurrection; such that, our death and burial is
not even considered anymore our own; but a death that is in Christ’s Death
with the full participation in His triumph over death, His glorious
Resurrection. This is the reason why Theophany is called “winter Pascha.”
It is the celebration of the Light of Christ who illumines all and the representation of all that Christ, by His baptism by John in the Jordan reveals to
us.

(Ephesians 4:17-24) Therefore, as Christians, our way of living is no
longer “as the Gentiles do… in the futility (or in the vanity and pointlessness)
of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the
life of God, {because of the ignorance that is in them} because of the
blindness of their heart, who being past feeling, have given themselves over
to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not
learned [Christ in this way], if indeed you have heard Him and have been
taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your
former conduct, …which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be
renewed in the Spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which
was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

Prayer
O Christ, our God, having begun this New Year we thank you for Your divine
grace that illumines and enables us to please Thee as citizens of your
Kingdom that has come, is in our midst, and is to come. For your Kingdom
is without end; now and unto the ages of ages, with Thy heavenly unoriginate
Father, and Thine all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit.

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