January 1, 2024

Sermon – The Sunday before Holy Theophany



The Sunday before Holy Theophany

By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig

December 31, 2023

Today, (the seventh day of Christmas), also the Sunday before the Great Feast of Holy Theophany, we prepare for the event of our Lord being baptized by John the Baptizer in the River Jordan; a Feast that culminates the celebration of Christ’s coming that began with His birth of the Holy Virgin in Bethlehem.  And so today’s Gospel reading from St. Mark, focuses our attention upon the prophesy of Isaiah that announces the messenger, namely John the Baptizer who is described as one “crying in the wilderness” to “prepare the way of the Lord… preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  John, who is the last of the Old Covenant prophets.  

After, thirty years of a quiet life in Nazareth, Jesus began His public ministry by first appearing at the banks of the Jordan River, and John, seeing Him, declares, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  However, we hear at the very end of today’s lesson something that John the Baptist says that makes clear the distinction of the Christ’s Baptism for you and I: something that goes beyond what John was doing, for he states: “I have baptized{you}with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John the Baptizer preached repentance’ so did the Lord Jesus Christ.  The difference is that in Christ we are united to God the Father with a baptism of regeneration that renews us.  The words of the prayers are: “the laver of regeneration;” meaning: what occurs by washing.  In other words it is not a mere symbolic ritual 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.  

The Feast of Holy Theophany can best be described as the time when we re-claim all that is sacred by first offering ourselves to God.  It is not just a time to receive a blessing.  It is a time to be illumined, to be awakened, to be vigilant and prepared.  As recipients of God’s mercy, of God’s grace and His blessing we participate as agents and partners of His mercy, His grace and His blessing.  This means that the Feast which takes place at the start of every New Year is a time to be active and not passive.

We live in a time when we must be more aware that nothing can be taken for granted as was the case of the Israelites.  There is no better opportunity to embrace the Feast of Holy Theophany and to understand the depth of its meaning than now.

When the lives of our family and the members of our community are impacted either by sickness, the loss of a loved one, tragedy; by success or by failure, our attitude, our demeanor, our ability to have faith, our sense of hope are also affected.  God is never tested.  We are tested by many circumstances.  God is never challenged.  We are challenged to have faith, but more importantly to be decisive and to act.

You and I live with the assurance of only one thing: and that is the now; and not the future.  We lived what is past.  It is for us a collection of good or bad memories.  What we have to choose is what we decide to do now; not tomorrow.  So it is best to dismiss anything that has contributed harm or created confusion, especially if we have contributed to any of it.  Let us confess it and intentionally cling to the lessons we have learned of what proved good in all of our relationships; never presuming that we are “in-charge.”  God is Pantocrator [The Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace… (of which the Bible says) …and of His Kingdom, there will be no end.].  Let us acknowledge it!  Don’t allow anyone to define who you are.  Seek to know our Creator, acknowledge what is in fact the truth.

You and I will totally miss the point of the Feast of the Holy Nativity and Theophany if we disregard, first and foremost, that our prayers, and our confession equips us for every challenge of every struggle, and every difficulty.  We are called to be stewards of the God’s gifts – our talents, our skills, our time and resources.  That calling is to be His partners in renewing, restoring, healing and the mission of salvation.

Holy Theophany, therefore, is a time of recommitting ourselves to Christ.  It is a time for our personal renewal.  It is much more than just making New Year’s resolutions.  Beyond resolutions, we are called to being committed to Christ; to understand what it means to be empowered by His Spirit.  Consequently, Christians pray to use good judgment, to make good choices in a world, because as Christians we believe and understand, first of all, that God is God, and we are His servants.  That God is uncreated and we are stewards and priests of His creation.  You and I, clergy and laity are called by God to bless, to renew and restore: to heal, to love, to forgive and to save.  This task and calling is to commit ourselves and our entire life—whatever the cost; to this mission.   

May we all rediscover the Mystery of our Faith, but more importantly come to understand what is essential to our life as Christians:  Christ was born of the Virgin, He was circumcised in the flesh, was baptized by John in the Jordan…  He who came to save man by His love and great mercy!