Home Sacred life Baptism: Into the Water

The Rev. Josephine Robertson – St. John’s Kirkland
Ephiphany 1C – Baptism of our Lord
Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

I don’t know what you were expecting, but I suppose it wasn’t this. Ah child, you should have known, but perhaps it is better this way. I watched you, there in the crowd, hanging on John’s every word. And I knew the turmoil in your heart, the questions I could never answer for you, however I tried.

Down you went with the crowds into the brown swirling current, into the border between worlds. Down with the weeping and sorrowful, down with the joyful and jubilant, down with the skeptical hedging their bets. John thundering over all, John calling down the power of God. I watched you go down, my own home spun tunic clinging wetly to your legs, curly black hair floating for a moment before you surfaced, gasping. So many sun darkened faces, glistening in the hot still air, water sluicing down their shoulders. A splashing water fight breaks out and I can see your eyes flicker toward the boys who shout and whoop, and feel the tug at my heart as the moment passes; not long ago you’d have joined in.

But know it or not you are growing into everything the angel told me you would be. I watch you turn away from the splashing hubbub, from the elders trying to restore pious order. The whole world spun on around you, the wailing, the exultant, John crying out his sermon, whipping more and more of the crowd into the water his voice thundering like the host of heaven. You heard none of it did you, child? I saw, because the world has always been thinner for me perhaps, because I will never be as I was before I held all of creation within myself and made her new in those hours of pain and struggle.

Yes I saw what no one else did, I saw the light flutter about you, not just a trick of the sun through willow leaves. I saw Her touch your head, your shoulders your shaking hands and I heard in my heart the words, because I spoke them too. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

It begins now and I can no longer protect you. You’ve passed through the waters of life twice now Beloved, born and reborn as must the whole world be. Here it begins, and you will not understand my son, not for a long time I suspect because while you are Ours you are also a man, just a man. But you carry her now within you, this whole world. All of the dust and the pain and the laughter of a river full of children. All of it deep inside you, growing into something new.

So are those boys, dunking one another and shouting, the girls pretending to be so much more mature, the elders with trembling worried brows, the soldiers standing a little apart in the water, the matrons and merchants in their fine clothes. I see them all coming up out of the water and I see the light dance about their heads and feel the remembered quickening. In my blood I hear their yes, as yet they don’t understand its import, the weight of it.

You are beginning to understand child, I see it in your face as you find yourself there on the far bank, far from the crowd. The veil has drawn around you, wrapped you, I doubt anyone else has even noticed you are gone. Your friends from town, I can see them wringing out their robes and shoving one another playfully as they head for the pomegranate juice seller just up the bank. They will wonder where you went, eventually.

Now your life begins, the one I have prepared you for. The one I have prayed would come, and never come. I have brought you to meet your ancestors, the shameful and the powerful, the weak and the wise; all partners in the dance of our God.

It won’t end with you, no angel had to tell me this, because the story of God rolls on and on. You will do what you must to lead the way to show your brothers and sisters what love looks like, what hope looks like, what the world can look like. My desert was nine long months, danger and hardship and trial. Yours will be no less dangerous.

I see you children, all of you, too many for this tiny shore, coming up out of the water, hearts unsure of what has just taken place, eyes searching for what is hidden. Coming up out of a thousand rivers, a world of little ponds, and copper bowls, and precious cups of water spent on this. The legs that took you down into the river, so sure, come up now wobbling and wondering: what comes next? I can tell you, because I have been there. Ah sons and daughters of mine, what comes next is the work of God, the growing of the new and the strange. What comes next is ridicule, because this wold will not understand the light in your eyes or the possibility that grows within you.

What comes next is frightening, and harder than you ever expected when you took that first step, when you went beneath the waters in a great shout of yes to the One who was calling. For now, you my children, are all pregnant with God’s kingdom, are all growing within you the promise of life, and forgiveness; of justice, and mercy. They will not come easily into this world, no they will come with pain and fear and you will want to quit but you cannot, no beloveds you must not. God walks this world with human feet, with laughing eyes and curious faces. God has kissed your heads, and planted seeds within your hearts, and gone before you leading the way.

He is fading even from my sight, vanishing into the heat shimmer of the world beyond the boundary that is Jordan. But we are here, and we have work to do for God.

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