Weheia, the word used for “open” in the Hawaiian text of Luke, has an interesting range of meanings: open, untie, undo, loosen, unlock, take off (as clothes). So we can consider in myriad ways the heavens’ opening for the Holy Spirit to descend. Maybe we get the sense that “the sky let loose” or “heaven became naked or exposed.” In the Celtic sense, that time at the Jordan becomes a “thin place,” where the vast distance between heaven and earth collapses and our experience of God becomes more immediate.
But God’s immediacy may be at once reassuring and terrifying in Luke’s narrative arc. Jesus may find the voice confirming his identity as Son of God much needed in the assault of temptation that follows. (See Luke 4.) Luke’s genealogical interlude (3:23-37) interrupts the story, but his “story board” moves directly from the thin place at the Jordan to the wilderness thick with temptation. The gentle descent of the Holy Spirit gains ferocity in driving Jesus forward to confront the question, “If you are the son of God . . . ?” Baptism’s conferral of identity leads to testing his resolve to reside in that identity in his life of ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This juxtaposition should not be missed by those of us who again and again reaffirm our baptism. We who heed the invitation, “Remember that you are baptized,” should brace ourselves for what may come. In the liturgy, baptism and reaffirmation always conclude with a dismissal to minister in the world, where the liturgical rubber hits the ethical and spiritual road. The water and the wilderness are never far from each other. Christian discipline reckons with the nearness of one and the other and relies on the strong animating breath present in both.
Wild Bird, come to us at the water’s edge today, and be ever near us for the living of these days. Amen.
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.
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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