Pastor's Holy Nativity & Theophany Message
It’s about that time of year again… the beginning of a new year. And what usually comes along with the New Year? New Year’s Resolutions!
I’m not sure what it is about it being the beginning of a different year that compels people to want to start (or stop) doing something in their lives. I guess the thinking goes, “New Year, new habits…” “new mindsets…” “new adventures…”
But regardless of what our New Year’s resolutions look like or from where our motivation for them comes, one thing is for certain: they almost always involve our wanting to set “aright” something that is wrong or lacking in our lives.
New Year’s resolutions show our tendency to want to rectify things in our life and are a resolve to make positive some negatives that have been bothering us in the past. They are an expression of our wish to do and be right.
You very rarely hear – except maybe jokingly – an example of someone’s New Year’s resolution being to become less healthy, do more harm or be less of a force for good in the world.
No, it’s usually just the opposite. Our resolutions show our desire to be kinder, to be healthier and to be all around better individuals both for ourselves and for the people around us.
Today is the blessed and glorious Feast Day of our Lord’s Nativity and Theophany, his birth and his revelation upon the earth.
Today all of humanity rejoices along with the heavenly hosts at the revelation of the Savior of the world and the salvation of the entire universe.
Today we welcome the arrival and presence of one who is always “righteous.”
We hardly ever hear the term “righteous” or “righteousness” used anymore in today’s language.
To our modern ears, the word “righteous” sounds like a fancy, somewhat archaic term – a technical piece of verbiage that we encounter in dusty Bibles and fairly antiquated translations of our Liturgy.
Yet, it is a word with a very simple and self-explanatory meaning. It simply means “morally right or justifiable.” In other words, doing what is “right” or acting in a “right” way is what constitutes righteousness.
We read during the service of Chrorhnek – or Blessing of Water – commemorating the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, from the third Chapter of Matthew, about why he came to be baptized by St. John the Baptist.
"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.'" (Matthew 3:13-15)
Here we have in the Gospel account the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth coming to the River Jordan, where a movement had been started by his distant relative John.
This movement was unlike anything that had risen among the Jews in Israel ever before: it was a movement of baptism for repentance in remission and forgiveness of sins. A public and ceremonial showing of the inner desire of a man to be done with sin and to make things “right” with God – which is to say, “become righteous.”
We should state here that Jesus himself was without sin and had no need to be baptized in order to have his sins forgiven. This is why John the Baptist protested at first, saying essentially, “What are you doing coming to me? I – all of us, really – need to be baptized by you… you are the Savior and the Messiah.
Indeed, the question of why it was that Jesus was baptized has been a difficult one to answer for most Church Fathers and theological scholars throughout the ages.
I think the key to understanding this lies in Jesus’s statement “it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
At the time, the ritual of baptism was in use as a way for gentiles to purify their sins before converting to the Jewish faith. The Jews of the time, since they were under the Law, had very little concept of themselves as sinners in need of cleansing and restoration by God. Those belonging to the other nations were seen as dirtied and blemished by their sins and therefore in need of a ritual purification.
This is why John’s baptismal movement was so novel and revolutionary when it first arose. It was the first time the Jews had been awakened to a need for God to cleanse their sins and set things right in their own personal lives.
It shouldn’t be surprising to any of us, then, that God himself – revealed in the flesh as Jesus Christ – should not only come to be part of this movement of repentance and drawing closer to God’s Kingdom, but to ultimately take the reins and become the leader and fulfiller of this movement.
Thus, St. John Chrysostom taught that even though Jesus had no need for baptism himself, he “freely identified himself with the people; otherwise he would have not come with the people for John’s baptism.”
Noted author and Biblical commentator William Barclay explains it this way, “in his baptism he identified himself with those he came to save, in the hour of the new consciousness of their sin, and of their search for God.”
No matter where we are in our search for God, Jesus comes to us and finds us. Jesus’s baptism “fulfills all righteousness” in our lives as well as those of all believers throughout time. He identifies himself with us so we can be identified with him.
His baptismal waters become our baptismal waters; his purification our purification; his righteousness becomes our righteousness.
So what is it in your life right now that you feel the need to make right with God? With others? With ourselves? It’s one thing to make a New Year’s resolution once a year, but what would you say if I told you that you had the opportunity to have Christ’s renewal every day?
When we bring all of our sins and our shortcoming before him, he has the power to renew us and recreate us as new creatures who can do right because of his righteousness.
“It is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” This New Year and Christmas season, as we look ahead to the upcoming year with hope and anticipation, we rejoice in having a righteous Savior whose righteousness can cleanse us and make us righteous human beings in the sight of God.
I propose we all make a resolution today to turn to him every day in prayer and thanksgiving, whether in good times or bad, repent of our sins and ask him to renew us daily with his righteousness, just as he did by being baptized along with us.
On this glorious day of the birth and revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is my prayer that we would all experience his love and forgiveness throughout the year and that by entrusting our life to him we would learn truly what it is to be renewed and made righteous in him. Amen.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
Holy Nativity & Theophany 2022