The Baptism of the Lord – January 9, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11
In the new translation of the Order of Baptism, there is this striking word. And the first time I had to baptize a kid with this new translation—I’m a bad priest, I didn’t realize they changed it—and I got to this word, and I had to say it, and I was like, “That’s a little ‘in your face.’ That’s kinda much, I think.” And I was at the baptism for my niece last year, and since I was the godfather, Fr. John Jirak did the baptism (and if you know him, you know he’s pretty intense to begin with)—and he gets to this world and he just milks it: contagion. “The contagion of Sin.” There is an exhortation to preserve this newly baptized child from the contagion of Sin.
Usually, for us, when we think about sin, we think, “God give us rules, we have a conscience, we know about right and wrong”—and we know we’re not supposed to do something wrong. It’s like God says, “Here are the bars I need you to jump over, and if you don’t…boom, that’s a sin.”
Ok. Sin, first and foremost, is a contagion. It’s a disease. It’s a virus. It spreads and infects literally everything it touches. (This isn’t a homily about COVID, but) the pandemic is this perfect analogy for what Sin really is, at it’s core. It’s a virus, a contagion. It spreads rapidly. It leaves destruction in its wake. It destroys. It’s like those maps of the spread of COVID. It’s all nice and clean, and then boom, covered in red and death and suffering. That’s Sin, that’s exactly what Sin does.
Symptoms of a Disease
Now, what I hear in confession—and we’re not going into specifics—but I hear the weariness of people. People are weary. They confess that they’re tired and weary, because they seem to be confessing the same sins over and over again. “Bless me Father for I have sinned…yeah, the same stuff as last time.” But what I often remind people of is that sin is holding on to us. Yes, “sins” are bad things you do. Yes, we freely commit “sins.” But first and foremost Sin, the contagion of Sin, has it’s hold on us! Sin is a disease, that’s what it does.
Now, throughout history, just like the pandemic, we’ve tried different ways to mitigate the spread of this disease. Throughout the pandemic, we have enacted so many laws and restrictions and safety measures, why? Well, to keep this contagion from running wild, to limit the destruction of the virus. Great. But because of Sin, the People of God did the exact same thing: they put in a bunch of laws and rules and restrictions. God (oh man, what a great guy!)—God even helps them out. God helps them out in ten little ways and says, “Want to help decrease the spread of Sin? How about you place God first. Try honoring your father and mother. Don’t kill people. Don’t commit adultery. Stop stealing.” Later on the people of God developed more and more laws and rules and restrictions (the book of Leviticus)—why do they have all of these things? It’s to try to contain the spread of this contagion of Sin.
But what happens? Just like COVID, just like our little rules and laws (they didn’t stop it)—just like this, Sin keeps spreading like crazy. People break laws, don’t follow guidelines. Things get worse. Sin, the contagion of Sin, gets worse and worse. It spreads uncontrollably, and more and more continue to suffer with it, more continue to die.
People are very upset and distraught about the pandemic (and I understand that). People’s lives are consumed with it. And we’re tired of it. And we keep crying out, “When will it end? When will things go back to normal?”
But this is exactly what it’s about, this is exactly what the issue of Sin is about! And I know I sound like a broken record when I say this—but sorry, I’m not sorry. This is what it’s all about. When it comes to Sin, we’re in the same kind of boat as this pandemic, it’s only worse. We try to pretend that we’re not. We try to pretend that, “I’m fine, you’re fine, we’re all fine.” Or we think, “We just need some better rules, and people just need to follow the rules and we would all be fine.” But that’s just false, we have experienced how much Sin has it’s hold on us. Maybe if we were as conscious of the problem of Sin as we were about the pandemic, maybe that’s what we would talk about when it’s like, “*Awkward silence* Uhh…pandemic is rough.” We would be like, “Uhh…Sin, that’s rough! That’s still got a hold on us, that’s pretty terrible.”
So if we just stop, and reflect, and examine our own experience, the experience of our family, of our relationships—our life!—what we discover is that we are in need of healing, of restoration, of “immunity.” The change we need isn’t just external, better government, better politicians—no, it’s internal. What we need is the restoration of creation—but not creation “out there,” but creation right here, among ourselves, and within ourselves. We are looking for the restoration and renewal of our humanity.
A Suffering Servant King Who Brings New Creation
Alright. Good. How? What is God going to do about it? “Jesus.” Good job, the right answer is always “Jesus.” Cool, what’s Jesus going to do? The Book of Isaiah, our first reading from Isaiah (42:1-7)—go read the whole book of Isaiah—this reading is a perfect little summary. God says He’s going to send his “servant,” and He’s going to anoint this servant with His spirit. And this servant is going to go around “not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street,” he he’s going to open the eyes of the blind, and he’s going to liberate people from prison.
What is the LORD saying? He’s saying He will send His Servant to accomplish this task, to give us this restoration and renewal. The way that He’s going to do it is He’s going to send his spirit on this Servant to empower him. And this Servant is not going to accomplish this task through force or power or violence (going around “crying out and shouting,” as Isaiah said), but he’s going to do it modestly and quietly, bringing about interior transformation and renewal. Signs will accompany Him so that you know that he’s getting his job done: the blind will see—healing will be the gift he brings; people will be freed from “prison”—liberation will be given to people held captive by something. And the goal? The restoration of all of creation, the renewal of our humanity.
The Announcement About Jesus
The great announcement that we have about Jesus this Christmas season is not that he is a cute little baby in a manger; it’s not that he was a nice guy, or that he taught us how to vote; it’s not that contraception is wrong, or that if you follow Jesus’ rules you get to go to heaven. That’s not the announcement we have about Jesus (although there is some truth to those things). The announcement is that—like St. Peter said in our second reading—“God anointed [this] Jesus [guy] of Nazareth with [the Spirit of God] and power. He went about doing good and healing those oppressed by [the contagion of Sin]” (Acts 10:38).
Jesus is going about creating life where one there was only Sin and Death.
The Lamb of God
How does Isaiah then go on to say that this servant is going to fulfill his mission? Through suffering. That’s why we focus in on John the Baptist calling him the Lamb of God. Again, not “the lamb of God who is oh so cute and cuddly.” No, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the Sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Jesus came to take away the contagion that had inundated the world. And that’s what happens on the cross, Jesus confronts Sin. And just like everyone else who confronts Sin, it appears that he loses—he dies. Like everyone else, he goes against Sin, and dies. But what do the Apostles testify? His apostles testify that he has risen, that’s God Spirit had resurrected him. Not just revived him, but resurrected him. Jesus is the beginning of this renewed humanity we are looking for, the first-born of this new humanity (c.f., Col 1:15). With the contagion dealt with, the path to the new and renewed humanity is finally opened.
This is precisely what happened to us at Baptism and Confirmation. The Spirit comes upon us not just to help us be good people, or to be nice, or to follow rules—but to recreate us, to allow us to share in the new life of Jesus himself. And the Spirit of God continues to work within our hearts, brining about a true transformation. And through us—not by our power, or our cleverness, or anything—but through us, the the power of Jesus Christ working through us, a true renewal of our humanity, of our life begins.
Here at the Mass we receive the Eucharist—of course! But what does the priest say right before? He quotes the same words from John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” And we respond, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
In other words, we come to this Eucharist to continue to be healed, transformed, changed into the new and renewed humanity that is the crucified and resurrected Jesus we receive. We cannot heal ourselves, we cannot end the contagion of Sin, we cannot renew and recreate our humanity—but He can. He can transform us, and does! Jesus comes in power and might to do just this.
The Eucharist isn’t just a nice thing we we receive on Sunday. The Eucharist Jesus Christ himself, coming to us, to touch us, to heal us, to transform us. The Eucharist is the source of our new and renewed humanity, and it is the summit of our search for a response. With burning desire, let us receive into our body the Crucified One, and after touching it with our eyes and our lips, may our hearts be ignited, our Sin burned up and our hearts illuminated; and through participating in the divine fire, we will catch on fire, and be renewed, transformed, and caught up in the divine life (c.f., St. John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith 4.13)