The Baptism of Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire and the Baptism of Jesus, Jan. 10, 2016
Baptism of Our Lord: January 10th 2016
Isaiah 43:1-7 Psalm 29 Acts 8:14-17 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The Baptism of Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire and the Baptism of Jesus
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. He also went down to the River Jordan where John the Baptizer – dressed like Elijah of old, was baptizing what seemed to be Jerusalem and all of Judea, flocking around him to hear him, confessing their sins, and becoming baptized. John did not mince words and approaching him meant an encounter with the truth about oneself.
Before John baptism had only been used for proselytes – those Gentiles, who wanted to become Jews. Gentiles were considered unclean and the water symbolically washed that away so they could be as clean and pure as the Jews. John charged that the Jews themselves had become unclean and they themselves had to start over with their baptisms, merely being circumcised was not enough.
So John was taking them all down a notch – Jews and Gentiles were both sinners and their sin had to be washed away. They needed to be drowned in life-giving water and come out of the water a new creation.
Jesus was John’s cousin and John recognized him, knew he was the Messiah sent by the Father in heaven and said, “Jesus, you don’t need to be baptized!” But Jesus became a human being like one of us and he identified with us sinners, and knowing he was going to bear our sin and even become sin for us, he went into the river and John baptized him as well, for our sake. We could say, “By Jesus baptism, we became clean, pure, and sinless, because he let the filth of our sin cover him and let the River Jordan wash it off.
Now ordinarily we connect baptism with water, but in scripture it is connected with all the four ancient elements: earth, wind, water, and fire. Then we have to add suffering to that, because Jesus asks James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Jesus connects communion with suffering as well when he prays, “Abba, Father…take this cup away from me, yet not my will, but thy will be done.” Then Jesus drinks the cup of suffering to the lees.
The Isaiah passage this morning that pronounces with such utmost assurance, God’s steadfast love for us, already has the baptism of water and fire. “When you pass through the water, I will be with you and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” Jesus is with us when we go under and we are raised up as Christs, when we are lifted back out of the water gasping for the Holy Spirit.
Then in the baptism of fire, the flames will not consume us, but all our sin like dross, all our attachments to our old rebellious nature against God, will be burned away.
I grew up hearing about the baptism of fire. My father was a machine-gunner through all the battles of World War I and he talked about how men would freeze up completely under fire until they had overcome the terror of being killed at any moment. When our family was in Hamburg when it was being bombed and the air-pressure of a falling bomb would slam everyone against a wall, only my father could react, give orders, and get everyone into the bomb shelters. The children would look into the faces of their parents for comfort and see they were just as frightened as they were.
God’s baptism of fire is, however, a creative fire, a purifying fire, and in it we do not get burned, but recreated, refashioned, made completely new.
Our naming usually takes place in our baptisms. So the One who created us says, “I have called you by name, you are mine!” Ah, recreate us, dear Lord, form us anew!
And look how precious we are in God’s sight! God would not give only six prisoners from Gitmo for us, as for the soldier Bergdahl, but God would give nations, whole peoples for us, in exchange for us. Israel might give over 100 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier, we are so precious in God’s sight, God would give all of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sheba in exchange for us. You and I, who are undergoing our baptisms, are most precious in the sight the Lord. God seems helplessly in love with us!
For the baptism of earth, St. Paul says in Romans, “We have been buried with Jesus by baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life.” So buried we get raised out of our graves with him. As soon as we open ourselves to following Christ, we really get buried in all the things we have to do and everything involved in saving the lost. But you can’t keep a good woman down; you can’t keep a good man down! God becomes the strength of our strength and we are pulled out from under it all by placing our hand “in the hand of the Man who stilled the water, who calmed the sea, in the hand of the Man from Galilee,” to quote the song.
The baptism of the wind is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A young doctor who died at the age of 37 just entitled his book “When Breath Becomes Air.” When baptized by the Holy Spirit our air becomes living breath, the breath of God, the Spirit of God. A Black preacher once told us White pastors that we were afraid of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, because we always wanted to be in control and when the Holy Spirit comes over you, you are swept off your feet and you can have no control.
But we can entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit and we can allow the Holy Spirit to sweep us off our feet, because it is not wind like the air, but God’s Spirit – caring much more than we can care about ourselves, more knowing of us than we know ourselves, more loving than all the love we can muster from inside ourselves. Now the wind would blow us right into something and hurt us. The Holy Spirit carries and moves us in ways that are simply wonderful, bringing healing, life, and salvation, more abundantly to those to whom it carries us, but also to ourselves. So the Holy Spirit is not merely wind, but God, the Holy Spirit, with caring and concern, love and wisdom, far greater than ours. So let us give up our control and allow ourselves to be moved.
The commentary notes that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus bodily like a dove when he was praying. So receiving the Holy Spirit is very much involved with our prayer-life, which for me I know needs work. Before the Day of Pentecost, the scripture says, the disciples “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer,”
Now no one can possess the Holy Spirit by prophesying or speaking in tongues, and then feel superior to those unmoved. We can never possess the Holy Spirit and those that think they do deceive themselves. The Holy Spirit possesses us and that possession is freedom. That possession frees us from all our possessions and from all evil that comes over us.
Last of all, Jesus refers to the baptism of suffering and very few of us escape it. A friend of mine really wants to die in his sleep and not have to suffer. But most of us have to suffer in one form or the other when we die. But that suffering is merely the birth-pangs, the contractions leading to the new life we live with and in God. Luther draws quite an analogy: what this great big wide world is to the small womb out of which a baby is born, so the wonderful new more spacious heavens and earth that we enter dying are to this world we leave. That is why Luther says, the death of the saints is called Natalis, meaning their birth. Yes, dying we cross the River Jordan, whose waters are chilly and cold, chills the body but warms the soul. Dying in Christ, we are raised up into the wonders of a new heaven and earth, having undergone our baptism with him and having drunk from his cup. Amen.
 Mark 10:38.
 Mark 14:36.
 Romans 6:4.
 Acts lists the 12 disciples and then says, “All of these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus as well as his brothers.” (Acts 1:13-14)