Proper I, Year B
Today we celebrate three miracles: today the wise men followed the star, today the wedding water was made wine; today at Jordan the Lord was baptized for our salvation, alleluia
Tribus miráculis * ornátum diem sanctum cólimus : hódie stella Magos duxit ad præsépium : hódie vinum ex aqua factum est ad núptias : hódie in Jordáne a Joánne Christus baptizári vóluit, ut salváret nos, allelúja.
Morning Prayer: Isaiah 60; Luke 3 (the Baptism)
The Holy Eucharist: Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12
Evening Prayer: Isaiah 49; John 2 (The wedding at Cana)
The Canadian book of 1962 has only altered the Old Testament readings, providing Isaiah 49.1-13 in the morning and Isaiah 60.9-end in the evening.
More recent liturgical revisions have attempted to restore the Baptism of the Lord to greater prominence at the Epiphany without displacing the venerable association of that day with the Three Kings. Canada 1962, provided propers for the Baptism of our Lord (p. 119), for use “on any weekday in the Octave, or at a second service on the Epiphany." The Revised Common Lectionary agrees with the Roman Catholic revision in commemorating the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany.
It is the words of the voice from heaven, You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased” that make the Lord’s Baptism an Epiphany, but this is not only an Epiphany of Christ as Son of God. The moment when Jesus came up from the water is also an Epiphany of God as Trinity (perhaps we need not coin the word Triadiophany). Indeed the late English Scholar Derwas Chitty suggested that the Baptism is the primary manifestation of the Trinity in the New Testament. In the moment that the Son rises from the waters of the Jordan the heavens open and the Spirit descends on him “like a dove” and the voice of the Father declares his good pleasure. The parallel to this scene in the opening verses of the creation story explain the choice of the first reading for today, in which the eyes of faith may also discern the Trinity. God, whose Spirit move over the watery abyss, creates by speaking (his Word). It should be noted that “like a dove” does not necessarily mean “in the form of a dove”; it could mean “as,” “in the manner of.” Before moving on, we may note Chitty’s words:
Moving upon the face of the waters in Creation, speaking by the Prophets, overshadowing the Blessed Virgin Mary at Nazareth, coming down in the form of a dove when the heavens were opened at Jordan, the Holy Spirit has the Incarnate Son as the goal of his work.
In the first reading, Genesis 1.1-5, in verse 2 the NRSV gives “while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters,” adding in a note that “while the spirit of God” and while a mighty wind” are also possible translations of the Hebrew. In English we distinguish “spirit”, “breath” “and “wind” in a way that makes it impossible capture the complex meaning of this verse. It is interesting to note, however, that both of the on-line translations of ther Torah by Jewish scholars that I know of render the word as “Spirit”. A comment by a mediaeval Rabbi is also to be noted:
The Throne of Glory was suspended in the air and hovered over the face of the water with the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He and with His word, like a dove, which hovers over the nest, acoveter in Old French, to cover, hover over.
In the reading from Acts we pick up the themes of baptism and the gift of the spirit. There is also a reflection of the complex relations that seem to have existed between the followers of John Baptist and the followers of Jesus, a matter that should be noted for further study.
Unlike Matthew (3.13-15) and later Christian writers, Mark seems to see no difficulty in Jesus’ receiving John’s Baptism, which was a baptism of repentance. Wy did one who was sinless need to undergo an act of repentance. In answering the question whether it was convenient that Jesus be baptized, St Thomas Aquinas offers commenst from several Church Fathers:
It was convenient that Christ be baptized. First, because, as Ambrose says on Luke, The Lord was baptized, not desiring to be cleansed, but to cleanse the waters, that washed by the flesh of Christ who knew no sin, they might have the power [right] of Baptism, and so that he might leave the waters sanctified for those to be baptized afterwards, Second, as Chrysostom says on Matthew, Although he was not a sinner, he had still assumed the sinful nature, and the likeness of sinful flesh; therefore although he did not need to be baptized for himself, yet the carnal nature in others had need of it; and as Gregory Nazianzen says in Oratio 39, which is in the holy light from the middle, Christ was baptized, so that he might immerse the whole old Adam in water. Third, as Augustine says in the Sermon on Epiphany, because he wished to do what he has commanded must be done by all. For as Ambrose says, This is justice, that what you wish another to do, you first do yourself, to exhort by your example.
I answer that it was the river Jordan through which the sons of Israel entered the promised land. But the baptism of Christ especially has this above [or it has the prerogative above] other baptisms, that it leads into the kingdom of God, which is signified by the land of promise. Whence is said John 3.5, Unless one is reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, once cannot enter into the kingdom of God. To which also pertains [is to be referred] that Elijah divided the waters of Jordan, when he was to be taken up into heaven by the fiery chariot, as is said 2 Kings 2, because to wit the entrance into heaven is laid open buy the fire of the Holy Spirit to those who go through the waters of baptism, and so it was convenient that Christ be baptized in Jordan.
A further note on the Star of the Epiphany
Some authors have suggested, and it seems not improbable, that the “Star” which appeared to the Wise Men in the East might be that glorious light which shone upon the shepherds of Bethlehem when the angel came to give them the glad tidings of pour Saviour’s birth. At a distance this might appear like a star; or at least, after it had this shone upon the shepherds, might be lifted up on high, and then transformed into the likeness of a star. According to an ancient commentary on St Matthew. this star in its first appearance to the Magi, had the form of a radiant child bearing a sceptre or cross; and in some early Italian frescoes it is so depicted.
In a conversation the other day I was asked about the illustration on the cover of this week's bulletin at St Columba and All Hallows, which depicts John the Baptist carrying a cross from the top of which hangs a snake. The image refers to the Bronze serpent of Numbers 21.4-9, which is made a type of the uplifted Son of Man by our Lord in John 3:13-17. This symbol strangely reminds one of the fact that the pagan Caduceus, the wand of Hermes which is entwined by two serpents has come to be used as a symbol of medicine. In fact, the Caduceus has been confused with the traditional medical symbol, the rod of Asclepius, which has only a single snake and no wings. This means that the rod of Asclepius is an even closer parallel to the bronze serpent.