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The Baptism of our Lord and Epiphany House Blessings

"He is baptized by John that He might cleanse him who was defiled, that He might bring the Spirit from above, and exalt man to heaven, that he who had fallen might be raised up and he who had cast him down might be put to shame."

Saint Gregory of Nyssa

The First Sunday in Epiphany, the Church keeps the remembrance of the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan. He who was born only a few weeks before (in the liturgical imagination) gives us the gift of rebirth. The Church Fathers talked about this at length, for it was a controversial subject. Questions abound. If Jesus is without sin and God himself and if baptism constitutes regeneration, a new birth from sin and death unto righteousness and eternal life, then what need had Christ of Baptism? Accusers thought they had the Achilles Heel of Christian witness. What heretics saw as advantageous to their cause, the Fathers delighted in expositing. 

The Fathers saw several things in the baptism of Jesus.

First, they saw the whole of salvation history coming to a head. If water had been before an instrument of judgment and God's wrath, now it was an instrument of salvation and grace. John Chrysostom speaks of how, in being Baptized, Christ "sanctified the nature of water." Gregory of Nyssa, in a wonderful passage, describes how the Baptism of Jesus is like Jacob, despoiling Laban of his flocks, becoming rich in souls taken from Satan.

Second, they saw that, just as the whole of the Trinity was to be seen in the creation of Adam, so the whole of the Trinity is revealed and manifested in remaking humanity. In the beginning, God breathed his spirit into a formed mass of earth, and it became a living being. We see the truth that, if creation is a Trinitarian action, so is redemption. 

"Just as our first creation was the work of the Trinity, so our second creation is the work of the Trinity. The Father does nothing without the Son or the Holy Spirit, because the Father's work is also the Son's and the Son's work is also the Holy Spirit's. There is but one and same grace of the Trinity. Thus we are saved by the Trinity, since in the beginning we were created by the Trinity alone." Chromatius of Aquileia

Third, they saw that Jesus had thrown in his lot with sinners. This is very much what Paul is talking about in Second Corinthians: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 RSV) Jesus' love for sinners is so strong that when he does what they do to mark their repentance, he gives them not only repentance, but the very life of God.

Every Christian, in knowing the account of the Lord's baptism, should be drawn to consider their own baptism. We remember that we have been conformed and joined to the Death of Jesus, and will be made like Him in His Resurrection. Gregory of Nyssa, again, writes so powerfully of this:

"Now if we have been conformed to His death, sin henceforth in us is surely a corpse, pierced through by the javelin of Baptism... it is a corpse you seek to despoil, one long ago joined to you, one who long since lost his senses for pleasures. A corpse is not enamoured of bodies, a corpse is not captivated by wealth, a corpse slanders not, a corpse lies not, snatches not at what is not its own, reviles not those who encounter it. My way of living is regulated for another life: I have learned to despise the things that are in the world, to pass by the things of earth, to hasten to the things of heaven." (Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ)

The clergy of Christ Church join me in inviting every member of Christ Church to have their house blessed this Epiphany, even if you have done so before. We are increasingly aware that we are engaged in pitched spiritual battle "against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12) A house blessing is not just the setting apart of a Christian home to be a place of worship, rest, work, and prayer, but to exorcise it of all the darkness of evil, to invite angels of light to dwell in the walls.

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