Theophany: The Blessedness of Water

Sunday is the Feast of Theophany. The event we remember is the baptism of Jesus Christ our Lord, but its theological significance is what it revealed about God. For at the Baptism of Christ, we have the first full revelation of God as Holy Trinity: the voice of the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit in the form of the dove all appearing together for the first time. The manifestation of the Trinity at the waters of the Jordan give us the truth about God, and also show that water itself was always meant to be a medium of revelation.

Yesterday, Friday, during the reading of the Royal Hours, I was particularly struck by the hymnody of our church which talks about John the Baptist trembling at the thought of putting his hand on the head of Christ, realizing that it was he (John) who needed to be baptized by Christ (Matthew 3:14). John’s baptism was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 3:11). John also recognized Jesus as the one who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). What the hymns implicitly capture from the Scriptures is that John recognizes that Jesus is the One to take away the sin of the world, and yet this chosen Messiah humbly appeared before John submitting Himself to baptism. The very thing John felt he could accomplish through baptism – the forgiveness of sins- is now paled when in the presence of the very One who takes away the sin of the world. John, like any Jew, knew only God forgives sins. When God revealed to John that Jesus was the One to take away the sin of the world, John realized that somehow, Jesus, the man standing before him to be baptized was God! No wonder his hand trembled and no wonder he expressed doubts to Jesus about baptizing Him. John the Baptist was the first person struck by the implication of the revelation of the Trinity at the baptism of Jesus. The cleansing of sin is not accomplished only by washing, it is accomplished also by God becoming man in Jesus Christ.

My final thought about the Feast is about the nature of water itself. Water in the beginning was involved when God created the heavens and the earth. The creation story is also a story of the revelation of God. We bless water because we believe the physical creation of God is holy and capable of bearing to us God’s revelation. The prayers of the blessing of water do not really say the water we pray over is holy and all other water is not. Rather the prayers ask that God make water and really all created matter the bearer of His revelation to us. We pray that water might become all that it was originally designed to be – especially life giving and cleansing. Water is capable of blessing other things, washing away the guilt of our sins, being a medium of God’s revelation about Himself, being source of life and renewal. Almost all health advocates say to drink plenty of clean water. We know in our world that too little water is deadly (drought, famine, deserts, sandstorms). We also know too much water is also deadly (Tsunamis, floods, drowning, mudslides, carrier of disease). But water is also capable of being part of life giving creation, salvation and revelation. There are countless stories in the Bible in which water plays a significant part in salvation and revelation – Noah and the ark, crossing the Red Sea in Exodus, crossing the Jordan into the promised land, washing Naaman’s leprosy, Peter walking on water, the Baptism of Christ and our own baptisms!

So this weekend, when we bless water, truly ask God to reveal Himself to you in the blessed waters of the Jordan, of the baptismal font, of the Feast of Theophany. Drink deeply of these waters – not just to resolve your physical thirst, but to enter into what God is manifesting to His creation. Take these waters home and bless your homes and gardens and cars and family members. You will realize that the spiritual life does not consist in overcoming our physical lives, but rather in turning the physical world into the means of revelation and salvation – all that God originally intended it to be. It is only because there is a physical world that God has a means to reveal Himself and someone to whom to reveal Himself! That is part of the very purpose of His creating us.

I wish you a blessed Feast of Theophany. May God manifest Himself to you and all of us.

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