Continuing to contemplate the mystery of Christ’s Baptism and the Theophany of the Holy Trinity. Below are two hymns from the Vespers of the Feast of Theophany. The first introduces the sense of coverings or clothing – things that Christ puts on. As God, Christ clothes Himself with light as with a garment (Psalm 104:2). At Vespers we sing in the prokeimenon that the Lord clothes Himself with majesty. Some in Orthodoxy takes this as a reference to the incarnation in which God clothes Himself with a human body. The human body was originally created for glory, and Adam and Eve were thought to where glorious garments in Paradise before the Fall. After the fall, they put on “garments of skin” which God gave them (Genesis 3:21). Christ takes on Himself that garment and transfigures and transforms it back into majesty and glory. Just by putting on human nature, Christ restores it to majesty – this is the saving power of the incarnation.
In the hymn below, Christ also covers Himself with the water of the Jordan – as God He is invisible and ineffable. He stands naked in the river, yet the waters cover Him. The imagery is one of mystery – in Christ, the human body hides God. The river is covering the body to reveal God! In the incarnation He allows Himself to be visible. Since we were created in His image and likeness, we have some sense of Christ in each human being. In the incarnation we see the type in whose image we are made. But being God, even incarnate, He is not guilty of sin. God made Christ to be sin, even though He never commits sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Being God, being pure and holy, it is Christ who gives to baptism the power to take away sin and to regenerate every human being.
He who covers Himself with Light as with a garment
Has granted for our sake to become as we are.
Today He is covered by the streams of the Jordan,
Though He has no need to be cleansed by them:
But through the cleansing that He Himself receives
Wonder! He bestows regeneration on us!
He refashions without shattering,
And without fire, He casts anew,
And He saves those who are enlightened in Him,
Christ our God, the Savior of our souls.
I love the imagery of Christ regenerating, refashioning and recreating us – without shattering or fire. He refashions by balm not burning. He recreates by degree not destroying. He edifies by design not demolishing.
Christ does not destroy His creatures but finds a way to renew and refashion us from within, without having to melt us down or destroy us because we are too evil. He renews the goodness innate in our being, which He bestowed on each of us at our conception – His image! Christ has become incarnate because humans are capable of being redeemed and created anew. Christ makes all things new, not all new things (Revelation 21:5). God loves us because He did not create junk. God has the eyes to see the goodness in us, savable and redeemable, capable of restoration and renewal. God does not need to annihilate creation or the human body in order to save it. The hymns of the Orthodox Church often marvel that in the incarnation divinity does not destroy humanity. The Virgin Mary is not destroyed by having God incarnate in her womb, just as Moses saw a bush being burned yet not consumed. God is fire, yet one that does not destroy but renews. God saves the Three Youths in the fiery furnace, an image of hell, where the fire becomes like dew to those whom God loves. The divine-human fusion of the incarnation and theosis is God’s method of salvation.
The incarnation of God in Christ is recognized and worshiped by all parts of creation, as we see in the hymn below.
Lord, in Your desire to fulfill what you appointed from eternity,
You have received ministers from all the creation at this, Your mystery:
Gabriel from among the angels,
The Virgin from among humans,
The star from the heavens,
and Jordan from the waters;
And in its stream You have washed away the transgression of the world.
O Savior, glory to You!
Angels, humans, heaven and earth are all united in Christ, and each finds the representative to serve Him as is clear in the icons of Theophany.