3 Advent

Is. 35:1-10
Ps. 146:4-9 or Cant. 3 or 15
Jam. 5:7-10
Matt. 11:2-11

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, before the moment of baptism, a child is stripped naked and handed to the priest who fully immerses the child three times in the name of the Holy Trinity. Emerging from the water each time, a splash of water, no doubt, hits the parents, godparents, the priest and assisting servers. It is a beautiful moment when a life, though a gift and though beautiful, is transferred to higher existence; a mere human becomes the vehicle and home of Christ. In the moment of stripping, the child is exposed in all his or her vulnerability.

This naked exposure reveals the totality of human life. What will happen in time? How weak are we, really? The moment comes — it always does, inevitably — when we know how low and vulnerable we are. The prophet Isaiah, speaking to the nation in a time of devastation, is speaking, no less, about us, collectively and personally. Life can be, at times, a dry land, a desert waste, a wilderness, a hopeless string of one apparently meaningless event after another. People are weak and feeble and fearful. They are often blind to the glory of God and deaf to the voice of the Word. People are oppressed, bound, and cast down. As every medical professional knows, particularly in the prosperous West, and especially in the United States, depression and anxiety are an epidemic. There is a lot of despair at hand, and it should be named and it should be faced. There is, thankfully, medical help that is often effective, but deeper questions lurk in all this human despair.

Baptism is preemptive action. Baptism acknowledges that we need “grace and mercy” not simply as a momentary dose of divine kindness, but as a real participation in the life of God. The naked and vulnerable human being is plunged into the waters of baptism to emerge anew as a son or daughter of God who is the household of God. The kingdom of God is at hand in baptism. God is at work, and something extraordinary happens as the life of Christ is transferred, in the power of the Spirit, to the newly baptized. In this moment and all subsequent moments baptism does its mysterious work.

The Scriptures help us describe it. The parched earth becomes glad, the desert rejoices and blossoms and sings. The glory of the Lord is seen with the eyes of faith. Hands are strengthened, feeble knees are made firm, the fearful heart becomes strong and confident, the Word of God is heard in Scripture, tradition, every human discipline, and in all the wonders of nature. The tongue is the instrument of a new song. (Is. 35:1-6). “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matt. 11:4-6). We may take offense at these words if read in their most literal sense, but that would be to read them wrongly. They are signs and metaphors of new life that is mysterious and hidden and yet absolutely real. In baptism we meet the grace of the Christ, the energy of Christ, the power of Christ, the unadulterated reality of Christ, and from that reality a new life begins.

Anything that may happen to any human being may happen to a Christian. We are in the world. We share all the sufferings and joys of humanity. But our lives are not merely human. They are the home of God who brings life from death.

Look It Up:  Matt. 11:2

Think About It:  Baptized into Christ, you have everything. There is no other.

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