Appointed scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
Water has a great deal of power – witness the storm surge warnings for the coast of East Anglia this weekend. It has power of life, as well: without it we die. There is additional power for Christians, too: the spiritual power of the water of baptism, which brings with it membership of Christ’s body, the church.
The origins of baptism go back to Jewish rites of purification, which John the Baptist adopted to make a controversial point to his contemporaries about their faith. The words heard at Jesus’ baptism echo those of Isaiah, writing about the “suffering servant,” whom Christians see fulfilled in Jesus, as he embodied the gentleness, compassion and nonviolence of Isaiah’s servant figure.
The baptism of Jesus, like all his ministry, was localised in a particular context, but points towards a greater, broader truth: in Jesus, God comes to meet us in a way that is approachable. The very specific time and place is the point of connection to other human times and places; it’s easier for us to expand from a particular human context in which we see and hear Jesus living, than to unravel a more abstract connection with God our creator.
In his baptism, Jesus ties this together, meeting us where we are, immersed in life, in humility and service, building a bridge between authority and those whom the authority is meant to serve.
Jesus’ baptism, to which we are connected through our own baptisms, challenges us to be as immersed in the world as Jesus was when allowing himself to be immersed in the water of baptism. Once we accept the responsibilities that accompany the gift of baptism, we can no longer look at the world in the same way.
This the ultimate example of the power of water: not only is it essential to create and sustain life, but in humans, through baptism, it has the power to transform lives, too.