Heightened expectations unleash in and among us a palpable and playful wildness. Emotions stir. Our senses go on alert. We wonder and speculate. We ask questions: “What’s the buzz? What does this all mean?” Throw “Messiah” into the river and the waters quiver. And John the Baptizer does not disappoint! His “wild” demeanor and preaching in the wilderness (see Luke 3:1-14) charge the atmosphere with expectancy and ethical upheaval. He points not to himself but beyond to the ultimate source of power and wildness: “the Holy Spirit and fire” with which his successor will baptize them.
Fire, spirit-wind, burning chaff, threshing: The prospects of an imminent and impending future promise to be fierce and undomesticated.
We Christians tend to resist the coming of power, change, the consumption of our “chaff,” and the winnowing that brings us to our “true self.” We tend to “remember our baptism” as a transaction that got us “in” where it is safe, rather than “sending us out” into the wildness of God’s new creation. We prefer to think of our identity with the risen Christ, rather than to embrace our daily experience of dying and rising with him. (See Romans 6.)
So, we will spend this week expecting, contemplating, and befriending the wildness of creation and the new creation into which we have been and will be baptized. We cannot know fully the beauty of living on this planet apart from its wilderness and wildness. Its storms and floods, forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, rainbows, and our integral belonging to the food chain help us find language for our relationship with the divine Mystery. Isaiah and the psalmist employ images from the book of nature and geopolitics to form our vocabulary for baptism.
What expectancy stirs in you regarding baptism as a past event to be reclaimed in the present? In what ways have you or do you experience the wildness of Spirit-wind?
Water is an important theme throughout the Bible. The authors of scripture use water as an image of transition and sometimes challenge and always tie it back to God’s renewing work. Isaiah records the divine promise that God will not abandon Israel, even if they pass through trying waters—a reference to the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians. The psalmist declares that God’s voice covers all the waters, so nothing can come against us that is beyond God’s reach. In Acts we see the connection between baptism—passing through the water—and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is on the inclusion of the Samaritans, a group considered unclean by many but not by God. We see clearly the connection between water baptism and the Spirit in the baptism of Jesus himself.
Read Isaiah 43:1-7. Isaiah presents an image of God’s favor that is at once particular and universal. How do you experience God’s love for you as part of the body of Christ as well as for all persons?
Read Psalm 29. God’s creation, in its wildness, incorporates destruction. In the face of disaster, how do you find a way to say, “Glory”?
Read Acts 8:14-17. Our baptism is in the name of Jesus and the name of the Spirit. To what wildness does the Spirit prompt you?
Read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Remember your baptism and listen for God’s call out into the wildness of the world.
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