Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday after The Epiphany, 2019.
If one were going to think in terms of chronological time, it might be startling for the Church to move on in the narrative of our Lord’s nativity and episodes of His early days involving Saint Joseph, Blessed Mary, the evil Herod, and later, the Magi. But the Church in moving into our reflection on the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the River Jordan is not inviting us to think in terms of chronological time, but rather to think theologically—to think about how we understand God.
And that has been the consistent theme going all the way back to Advent—how do we understand God’s presence in the world; how do we understand God’s presence in our hearts; how do we understand our worship of Him Whom we proclaim with come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead? To come in glory is how Christ comes to us, not only at the end of days and the judgment, but how He comes to us now: we often speak of how He makes Himself known as doing so in and through glory. What is good and true and beautiful in the world—all of it is of God, is our faith; and all such manifestations, all such energies of God are known to us as His glory. The birth of a child reveals the glory of God, for example: and there are countless more examples we could think of.
Saint Luke records in the Acts of the Apostles a speech or sermon by Saint Peter, which begins with the words, “Truly I perceive.” Everything he goes on about is his description of God’s glory that he has perceived and is perceiving—in order to share in his perception that others will be encouraged in faith by it; and not just encouraged, but taught and formed. The apostles’ teaching and fellowship takes its anchor in the perception of Christ that had been revealed to them in the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread. What was revealed to them is a perception of reality—a perception of Truth—a perception of what is truly real; far more real than what can be proved scientifically and witnessed empirically. And the apostolic ministry was to share this fundamental perception with others: the crucified and risen Christ revealed by the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread—the glory of His presence: guiding and loving us: that eyes of flesh would give way to eyes of faith, eyes of spirit, eyes that can perceive the invisible Truth which is Christ.
The perception of glory in Christ was learned by the apostles in some significant way through the teaching of Mary and Joseph, which was them sharing their experiences, experiences of glory, even experiences of annunciations of glory. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds in the field, the Magi—all experienced annunciations of various kinds, annunciations of glory that lifted up their hearts into the invisible reality of God’s redemptive stream. And in being initiated into God’s revelation, the young Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul were then able to hear the account of the baptism of Jesus by the hand of Saint John Baptist, and see in it something of the same revelation of glory, the same annunciation about God’s workings through Christ His only-begotten Son, as had been perceived by Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi.
And what is the glory revealed by the baptism of Jesus? It is a glory that is trinitarian: the revelation of God the Father in the voice from heaven which says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”; the revelation at the same time of the Holy Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Jesus—as the dove signaled to Noah the washing of sin from the earth, the alighting dove reveals our salvation in Christ, Who is the beloved Son, described in the same terms in Psalm 2 and in Isaiah 42: the beloved Son, the chosen of God.
Just as the nativity of Jesus was his biological beginning—a beginning completely bathed in glory of angels and worship—the baptism in the River Jordan was a beginning, now of the public ministry of Jesus: and let us again be drawn into the truth proclaimed throughout the scriptures: fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Awe of God is always where we must begin: not just in the beginning of our baptismal life, but every day we must begin in this holy fear, this awe. Through awe, through holy fear, we enter into stillness, the stillness necessary to know God. Through awe that gives way to stillness, we enter more and more into God’s rest: into contemplation of God, and contemplation of His boundless love.