January 03, 2018
By John Nelson.
Scripture: Multiple Passages
At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,
when the earth was wild and waste,
darkness over the face of Ocean,
rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters…. (Gen. 1:1-2, trans. Everett Fox)
The voice of YHWH is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders, YHWH, over mighty waters…. (Ps. 29:3)
“I have baptized you with water; but [the One coming] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mk 1:8)
Reading the gospel story gives one impression of that extraordinary encounter among the baptizer and the baptized. Read the other scripture passages for the day, you may gain a different, complementary impression — of the power of the water that delivers the baptism.
On a retreat, my workmates and I spent several days on the Pacific coast, in a hotel perched at the edge of the ocean, accessible through a mangrove swamp. We dashed across black, volcanic sand, hot enough to burn feet, and dove into the water. On one of those days I got caught in rough currents: pulling my legs one way, my torso another, tumbling me over. It was scary, dangerous, exhausting. Water that looked placid contained enormous force. Residents of Texas and Florida know those devastating powers all too well, along with neighbors in Puerto Rico, South Asia, Sierra Leone, Chile, Guatemala, and more.
The waters of baptism often look placid, too. Most often the fluid dynamics are manageable, even when the sacrament is delivered in rivers and oceans. But the scripture reminds us: don’t be fooled. The currents in baptism are, if anything, even more powerful than the rip tides and floods that can so easily drown or destroy.
Imagine: the quart of water in your church’s font, blessed by the power of the Spirit, contains force enough to bring down tyrants and wipe away all the sedimentary layers of sin. Remember and tremble, when you dip your fingers into that seemingly calm bowl: all God’s might is there.
As we remember Jesus’ baptism keep us mindful, Holy One, of those cosmic powers you are unleashing once more. As your life-making mercy pours out, let it wash through our hearts and minds again. Amen.
Rev. Dr. John A. Nelson is an innkeeper, mediator, and pastor of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.
January 03, 2018