Scripture for this Sunday (Birth of John the Baptist):
Isaiah 40.1-11; Psalm 85.7-13; Galatians 3.23-29; Luke 1.57-66,80
On this day, we celebrated the birthday of John the Baptist – and at Santa Margarita we acted out his legacy by bringing a small person to be baptised.
What John the Baptist did was provocative for his time, implying that the people of Israel had “lost the plot” of their Jewish faith and needed to be readmitted to it both symbolically and by reorienting their priorities and their lives. Baptism was symbolic of “crossing the water” out of Egypt and then into the promised land.
Anyone who has crossed water (either literally or figuratively) to start a new life knows that this is not without risk. Life needs to go on once the water has been crossed, into what may be unfamiliar territory. This was true of Jesus, of his early disciples and of his modern followers.
The child we baptised on this Sunday will need guidance in negotiating the new territory of her life in faith. There will be other crossings, too: there will almost certainly come times when there is a gap – or a gulf! – between the child and her parents, because the pace of change means that we cannot expect to understand the way life is lived across the divide of culture and context.
There is one bridge that can be built across the divide. It is the bridge of faith, that through the tradition, scripture and reasoning of the church through the ages takes what is old and of value and interprets it and reapplies it to the current culture and context. Because culture may change; technology and our use of it may change; society and our situation may change; our experience may change; but human nature changes very little, and it is the relationship of faith to human nature that John and Jesus addressed, in complementary ways.
While many embraced John’s baptism and message initially, it was clear once Jesus’ teaching and ministry began that the disruption to life that he brought was too risky for some to be willing to consider crossing the water.
It’s a simple message, to love God, and to love others as ourselves, yet truly to love God and love others is almost always more costly, and painful, and messy than we would like. But for those of us who truly believe, as Jesus did, in liberty and justice for all, that is a price we will gladly pay.
That is the water-crossing journey to which John pointed, and to which Jesus invites us. And that is the risky, wonderful, adventurous journey on which we sent our newly baptised little sister, with her parents and godparents, on this day.