Sunday, January 13/26, 2020; Sunday After the Baptism of the Lord
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is baptized! An old Gospel hymn says, What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me pure within? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Brothers and sisters in the Lord, on this Sunday after Theophany, the great Feast of our Lord’s baptism in our human flesh, what darkness covers our minds? What sickness is asking for the blood of Jesus to cure? The blind man in this morning’s Gospel dwelt in a literal darkness, yet his enlightened soul knew who to ask for help and mercy. We live in a supposedly enlightened age but are blind to God, so that while we see with our physical eyes, our spiritual sight is quite limited.
Yet the Gospel proclaims, “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali… The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” Zebulun and Naphtali in the far north were the first tribes of Israel exiled into Babylon, so those tribes had served the longest under the thumb of a pagan, worldly power and had the most opportunity to wander from God. When Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the visit by three Magi from the East signaled a reversal of this Babylonian captivity, “Babylon despoiled Zion the Queen and took her wealth captive. But Christ by a guiding star drew to Zion the treasures of Babylon with her Kings who gazed upon the stars.” (Matins for the Nativity of Christ, Ode 8, Festal Menaion, p. 280) So Christ first reversed the curse of Babylon with his birth; then, after his baptism by John in the Jordan, He began his earthly ministry purposefully in the land most alienated from God: Galilee of the Gentiles.
I remember a time in my own life when I felt the most alienated from God, cut off from him by a darkness of my own making. The many philosophies of God that had sustained me and the groups I had joined all failed to bring me into full communion with the one true and living God. Some told tales of an impersonal force that governed the world with little to no human agency involved. Other philosophies involved a personal God, but one who was too easy for me to manipulate and use to my own fallen purposes. Some even pointed me toward the door of the truth but could not take me inside, being like the Jewish prophets and teachers whom an anonymous father describes:
There were indeed many lights among the Jews: Moses and Aaron and Joshua and the judges and prophets were all lights. Every teacher is a light to them whom he enlightens by teaching. But Christ is the great light. In the region and shadow of death were seated the Gentiles either because they were committing iniquities or because they were worshipping idols and demons, the worship of which was leading them to everlasting death. (ACCS Vol. 1A, p. 67).
Indeed, all worldly philosophies have some grain of truth. But it was only when I discovered Jesus Christ through the sacrament of his body and blood in the Church that my former delusions fell from my eyes like scales and those incomplete ideas were made whole.
Hieromonk Seraphim (Eugene) Rose of blessed memory was another American soul lost in the free market of ideas. Growing up in the West coast in the 60s in the 70s the young Eugene desired greatly to discern the truth that would set him free from the many competing philosophies of the time. He grabbed ahold of one eastern philosophy after another and was groping in a darkness of his own making when one incredible revelation turned him from his darkened mind to his enlightened heart:
With my exposure to Orthodoxy and to Orthodox people a new idea began to enter my awareness that truth was not just an abstract idea sought and known by the mind, but was something personal— even a Person— sought and loved by the heart, and that is How I Met Christ. (Fr. Seraphim Rose His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene, p. 100)
Have you met the Lord Jesus Christ this morning? Are you similarly troubled with an empty philosophy or a way of life that does not deliver on its promise for human happiness and fulfillment? Then seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he still near. (Isaiah 55:6) Become a disciple of the baptized and risen Lord. Partake ye of his body and blood and taste the fountain of immortality. For nothing else can wash away our sin and illumine our darkness. May Christ the True Light who illumines and sanctifies all creation make us all into a new creation. Christ is baptized!