As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
As a writer, I love the reality of becoming totally immersed in what I am doing. There is a point for every writer when you get beyond the struggle of getting going, beyond the place of awkward editing, of evaluating your work, to the place of immersion. It is at that point that the writing begins to flow and you feel yourself being written more than writing.
This sense of immersion lies at the root of the meaning of baptism. As twitchy as we mainline Protestants may be about the depth and quantity of water used in the sacrament, we have to acknowledge. To be baptised is to be immersed. To surrender to the flow.
As I read Luke’s gospel I become aware of two immersions. There is the immersion of Herod into constriction and darkness. Herod, who decided to take the low road and earned the derision and disgust of John the baptiser, then adds to the depth of his darkness and has John thrown in to prison, thence to later beheading.
In contrast there is the immersion of Jesus into the mission of the Father. Immersing himself into light and opening.
Listen to Luke, “Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”
Herod’s is an immersion into walled off imprisonment. He ends up every bit as confined as John whom he has locked up.
Jesus’ is an immersion into openness, heavens open, Spirit descends and voices speak.
We all know the power of our addictions to imprison us. To wall us in and ultimately make us lose our heads (or at least our minds). That is the Baptism of Herod
Yet every now and then, grace on grace, we are able to immerse ourselves into the Other.
To do what is required, to pray, and like Jesus, to find ourselves opening up to light and heaven and to hear the flutter of Spirit wings. That is the baptism of Jesus.
That is the theme of this feast.
That is our surrender to all that is positive and transforming in the world.