By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
v9Not long afterward Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. v10As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove. v11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” (Read: Mark 1:7-11)
The twelve days of Christmas officially ended last Wednesday with the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany more popularly known to Filipinos as Feast of the Three Kings. This Sunday starts the nine Sundays of the season of Epiphany the liturgical calendar season that precedes Lenten season. But that is jumping the gun. It would be best for a meaningful observance of Epiphany season to understand what this season is all about.
Let me recall what I have already written and homilized with regards to Epiphany season.
I am very sure that most of you have gone to the internet web and typed ‘Epiphany’ in your search engines. Nevertheless, I would like to share the simplest meaning and significance of this special day on the definition from Wikipedia that states, Epiphany (from Koine Greek , epiphaneia “appearance”, “manifestation”) is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. The feast is celebrated on the 6th of January in the Anglican/Episcopal church and other catholic traditions.
The gospel narrative according to Matthew 2:1-12 tells us about the extraordinary journey of the Magi (maedjay) – or wise men to locate or find a baby that they believe is a special one. Their purpose: to pay homage or worship this child whom they believe is a baby of all babies. Matthew’s account didn’t say that there were three – nor they were kings. But since there were three unique gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh then the understanding that there were three visitors and were of royalty because of the regal gifts. But they were magi – wise men of unknown number if we based on Matthew’s account who braved everything just to see what they think would change their lives and the world.
The baby born on that first Christmas day is not an ordinary infant. Given the heavenly wonders accounted by shepherds of the star and celestial beings appearing and singing that lead them to the manger where the baby lies as they were told by the angel. These are integral part of that manifestation of the God the Son to whole humanity in his birth.
Throughout the years and convenient interpretations – it is imperative that we ask the question today: How could this myth or elaborate story (from its original form) could help enhance our Christian faith and practice today?
The story of the Epiphany captures the imagination with its rich mixture of mystery and intrigue. Into the Holy Family’s impoverishment and temporary shelter come the magi from the East dressed in majestic robes bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had travelled from unknown lands following a star and had experienced the deviousness of King Herod before they were filled with delight in finding the new-born child. After paying homage they left for home by a different route.
Indeed, the story of the Magi is so colorful we may overlook its significance and fail to see its deeper meaning.
The wise men (magi) represent all of us. Their journey through the desert and mountains following a star reflects our search for purpose and meaning of life, which is not possible unless we are guided by faith which enables us to see beneath the surface and appearances.
At the center of it all is the innocence of the new-born-child, surrounded by adoration, wonder and mystery, who is able to stir the emotions, imagination and wills of all those drawn into his presence. The story is always relevant because God sees to it that people who really search will find him. He will shed light into our darkness and make us new.”
During this Epiphany season, as we remember the visit of the magi and their gifts for the Christ child, let us follow the same star that led them, trusting that the God who lights up the heavens with the stars and sun and moon also illumines our path, as we follow Jesus, honor his teachings in our lives, stand in awe of his healing power, and go with him to the cross, the tomb, and eternal life.
Fast forward in Jesus’ life read in the gospel lesson appointed this first Sunday in Epiphany. The story is about the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan river by John the Baptist, his cousin. What is significant in this narrative is about how Mark describes that moment during or right after the baptism when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove and a divine affirmation with a voice from heaven proclaiming, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” Indeed, these are two events as related in the gospel are manifestation, embodiment and revelation that this Jesus is indeed the Son of God born among us is our salvation. Indeed, he is ‘the way, the truth and the life’!
The new year despite the bleak past year urges us to a new beginning. We accede to the challenges and adjustments we must undertake as we confront the realities of the new normal caused by the pandemic and new resolve for resilience since we are still in the dark when this pestilence would end. This is also another chance to start anew. It is a time to try to do things better than we did last year. Baptism then and now is also about a new beginning. John baptized for repentance of sin and hence a new beginning of clean slate free from bondage of sin.
Narrated in each of the four Gospels, the baptism of Jesus marks the inauguration of His public ministry — His emergence from a life of seeming obscurity into a life of growing popularity on account of His preaching, miracles, healings and proclamation of mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus steps into the Jordan River and into His mission of redemption through this public religious act. The descent of the dove symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus receives as the Christ, Greek for “the Anointed One.” It is one of the events of the epiphany, manifestation and revelation why God chose to be incarnate – to be born as one of us. His baptism at the Jordan River started the step towards Calvary because his mission is of humility, forgiveness and mercy to their real core and contrary to our ordinary understanding and practice of these traits.
As one Bishop Donald Hying puts it, ‘this mark of divine blessing is accompanied by the voice of the Father in heaven who proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). This mysterious utterance reveals Jesus as the Son of God, the One sent from the Father to accomplish the salvation of the human race. In this dramatic scene we already grasp the identity and function of the Most Blessed Trinity — we see the Father as the One who begets and sends the Son to redeem the human race, the Son as the obedient servant who accomplishes the will of the Father, and the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier who empowers the mission of redemption’.
Already at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus’ fundamental identity is situated in this Trinitarian relationship. In the early Church, the visit of the Magi, the baptism of the Lord and the miracle at Cana together constituted the meaning of Epiphany, for each of these three events reveals, manifests and unveils who Jesus is.
I fully submit to Bishop Hying as he wrote, “In Christian baptism, we become adopted children of the Father, members of the Church, the Body of Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit. Baptism washes away our original sin and claims us for the kingdom of God. Through this saving sacrament, God fills us with sanctifying grace, with the fullness of the Trinitarian life. To understand the meaning and implications of our baptism is to fundamentally grasp our identity, vocation and mission as disciples of the Lord Jesus and members of the household of God”.
In Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, we see Him anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Christ, we hear the Father proclaim His fundamental identity as the beloved Son, and we perceive Jesus’ mission as one of humility, a self-emptying love and sacrificial identification with everything in us that was lost, broken and dead.
We spend time and energy seeking a lost object to the extent that we value it. I will spend much more time looking for my wallet or cellphone than I will a misplaced magazine. How infinitely valuable we must be to the Lord God that He sent His own Son to seek and save us in the valley of death! The whole Christ-event finds a clarity of mission when Jesus is submerged in the waters of the Jordan at the hands of John the Baptist.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.**