In the name of our congregation here I wish to greet the members of the Christian Council of Kensington and of Westminster. Year after year, in brotherly love, in a search of a oneness deeper than all visible unity we meet here. And we meet here in the light of our salvation in Christ. The salvation of mankind, the salvation of the world created by the Word is not a one-sided act of God. The Incarnation would have been as impossible without the humble assent of the Virgin Mother as it would have been without the positive will of the Father. But also, in the Incarnation only a beginning is made to our salvation. Saint John Chrysostom in one of his Homilies says that Christmas is like a dawn, but Epiphany which for us means the baptism of Christ is like a full light of day. Why? Because in the Incarnation, in the birth of Christ, the Son of God become the Son of Man in Bethlehem. God seizes upon the humanity which is offered Him by the faith of the Virgin Mother, which is the culminating point of all the faith of those who ever longed for the coming of their Saviour and believed in it, those whose names are written in Christ\’s genealogy, and the many, many, the millions whose names are unknown to us, but who are all known to their Lord and their God.
But in the Incarnation, in the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem, God takes hold of a frailty of a child, and, as a parable, gives Him to us. Love is always given; love is always defenseless, love is always ultimately vulnerable, and the more perfect the love, the more fulfilled, the more defenseless, the more given and vulnerable it is. Divine Love is incarnate in Bethlehem; and the humanity of Christ there receives passively the gift of this union with God as the result of the perfect faith of the Mother, the Virgin Mother Who has offered Herself and Her Son to be God\’s own Son.
On the day of the Baptism Christ has reached the fullness of His human maturity, and now, it is the humanity of the Word Incarnate that takes upon itself, in an act of perfect freedom, of entire faith, of unreserved obedience, of heroic surrender the task which Love Divine has laid upon Him. He comes to Jordan free of sin, and He is baptized. Why? A Western Presbyterian minister of France told me once that he sees it in the following way: the people came to John the Baptist soiled, polluted by sin in an act of repentance and of faith, of a return to God, washed their sins in the waters of Jordan; and these waters became heavy with human sin, became what the legend of so many nations call, the dead, the killing waters of sin. And Christ comes; and He, pure of stain, immerses Himself in these waters of death as one would immerse white wool into a dye, and comes out; comes out of these waters carrying upon Himself all the sin that has been washed in these waters.
Ancient thought, ancient intuition had already perceived something of this mystery in the story of Hercules which is mentioned by one or another of the spiritual writers of old. Hercules stands for the hero who saves; he kills with an arrow the Centaur, the creature which is both beast and man an image of what sin makes of us: beasts and men at the same time, because the image of God cannot be washed but it can be profaned; it cannot be destroyed but it can become monstrous as in the legend of Centaur. And on his dying moment the Centaur sends to Hercules his tunic asking him to wear it in memory of his victory, traitorously. And when Hercules puts it on it clings to his body and burns him like fire. And he tears it away together with his flesh and his life.
Isn\’t this an adequate image, an intuition of genius of what happened in Christ? Yes, He merges Himself, He immerses Himself in these waters of death; He comes out of them wearing on His body, in His humanity all the consequences of human sin, as Hercules put on the tunic soaked with the blood of the beast-man. And Christ will die of it because it is the only way He could free, not Himself but mankind of its sin. We are Christ\’s own people; our vocation on earth is to be in history, in the course of our short-lived existence, what Christ has been: love divine incarnate; vulnerable unto death and unto torment; helpless because it is totally and freely given. And our vocation is to struggle within us against everything which is sin, everything which is evil, to free ourselves by faith and obedience, by love and ascetical endeavor of everything which is not worthy of God, of everything to which God cannot unite Himself. And then, give ourselves unto life and unto death for the salvation of every person, of every nation and of the world.
This is what this feast of Epiphany tells us. Let us follow into footsteps of our Master, from centaurs become truly human beings, and human, unite ourselves with God in Christ by the power of the Spirit, and lay down our lives, and offer if necessary our death for the salvation of all who need it. Amen.