Experiencing the Miraculous - Sermon by Father Alexander Stavrinides
At the age of thirty, Christ felt the need to abandon the profession of a carpenter and devote himself to his mission, beginning with the baptism of John. This decision is the beginning of a series of paradoxes, that marked the special occasion, which we would be blessed to understand as Orthodox Christians.
John was calling people to a baptism of repentance. What sins did Christ have that made this baptism necessary for him? Is it not strange for a healthy person to be seeking a physician, and a sinless God to seek waters intended for sinners? The answer is to be found in earlier happenings that describe the humility with which Christ came to the world and the events of his early life.
For the Incarnation, the Word of God who had no beginning had chosen to be born in a cave, surroundings so humble that the hosts of angels were left in amazement. Now, in proclaiming the beginning of his ministry, he chose a corner of the desert, where, far from publicity, he recognized the mission of John the Baptist, was recognized by him as the Lamb of God, and picked up the thread of his own mission.
In that unknown desert, John was carrying out his divine mission, knowing that someone would come after him, whose shoes he was not worthy even to stoop and loosen. But who that person might be, John did not know, until he caught sight of Christ in the distance, coming to him. Here, however, new marvels begin to unfold.
There was a time when John as a babe had leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of Christ, when the pregnant Mary entered Elizabeth’s house. Now again John gets a glimpse of the Christ and recognizes him as the Lamb of God destined to take away the sins of the world. For John, that was a sacred moment that sealed his work as the Forerunner.
Miracles are found in the presence of Christ. They require no further investigation, no further assurance. He felt the change inside him, when he caught a glimpse of Christ.
John’s disciples heard their teacher witness that Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. According to the law, the Lamb of God was always without blemish. What baptism would be suitable for a clean and sinless person?
Despite the above, we know that Jesus went to John for baptism. Man’s mind cannot contain the thought that the perfect Lamb of God would have any reason to submit to the baptism of repentance. Once we realize the odd confrontation, everything that followed becomes a miracle that unfolds in no simple way.
John’s disciples had heard their teacher confess that he needed to be baptized by Christ. How can the man that had been sent by God to hear other people’s confessions and cleanse sinners in the River Jordan, confess to the unbaptized Jesus that he too had a need to be baptized?
The answer is that, in the presence of Christ, John became fully cognizant of his limitations and, as a man of God, was ready to seek forgiveness and be cleansed.
John knew that he was a mere servant in God’s work. As such, his duty was to please his master and hope that his master would give him a word of comfort for work well done. In this meeting, however, the terms were reversed, because the master was intent on being baptized by the servant. There was awe in the encounter, between the two servants of God.
While the Lamb of God was hidden in a carpenter’s shop of Nazareth and the Forerunner was far away in the desert, all seemed well. Now that they encounter each other in a divinely appointed time, this holy man, the voice crying out in the wilderness, who had come to the realization that he was no different from the rest of mankind and wished to be cleansed by Christ, received the order to baptize his master! Mystery followed upon mystery, and the marvels did not cease. One can wonder how many lessons the disciples of John had to learn in one day.
Christ’s answer to John was unexpected. It made clear that something deeper was happening and that there was some righteousness that was yet to be fulfilled. From the New Testament, we learn that Christ had condescended to take on the form of a servant, even though he was the master of all things; it follows that he had to fulfill the entire range of duties of a servant and, as such a servant, both God and man, draw behind him the entire human race, on lines defined by John the Baptist, when he proclaimed, “Make straight his paths.” The road that John had opened was the baptism of repentance, and here precisely was the beginning of Christ’s ministry.
John was therefore compelled to place his hands on his Master’s body and baptize him, as was his custom with all men. And God in heaven, seeing the humility declared Jesus the beloved Son of the Father, and Christ began his mission as the head of the church, of all the children of God, the men, women, and children that were to follow in his steps.
Christ lived in a constant series of miracles. His conception in the womb of Mary was the miracle of all the ages, his youth, his baptism, and his entire mission make sense, only within the boundaries of a miracle. But John the Baptist, too, was conceived in a miraculous way, leapt miraculously in his mother’s womb in the presence of Christ, and relived the miracle in recognizing Christ coming to his baptism.
The important thing is that we too enter the world of miracles when God calls us to be his children. All that are in Christ are children of God, of the Virgin, and we all take up our cross in order to follow, as co-heirs of the saints. For our own sake were the biblical miracles recorded, so that we can learn to recognize them in our own lives, because having a life in Christ is the same as experiencing the miraculous.
I wish you every success during the New Year, and may we all be ever cognizant of God’s hand working miracles in our lives.