Yesterday was Baptism of Jesus Sunday. The sermon that I prepared is here. In worship the sermon was followed by a ritual of renewal of our baptism.
Waiting in what she remembers as being a very small room at the Emergency area of the hospital, a mother just two days still in her bathrobe and slippers sitting in a wheelchair, her husband a father only two days standing over her, other adults gathered round, grandparents, pastor, friends, all waiting–what is done in such rooms–waiting for news of the one who is in the emergency, a tiny baby, just two days old who seemed to give up on staying in this life, went to sleep, and stopped her breathing. Included in the room of waiting ones is the friend of the little baby’s parents, a nurse whom the frantic parents called to come over when they could not wake baby and it seemed to them that she had been sleeping too long. The friend came over quickly, living just across the street from the family, a part of the same intentional Christian community with the parents. The friend was holding baby when baby stopped her breathing. The friend performed CPR on baby until the ambulance and paramedics came. Chaos reigned.
And was the Spirit of God, the wind, the breath of God hovering over such a chaos as this beginning? The first Genesis Creation story, written during the time of the Israelites exile in Babylon, giving witness that God is present in the chaos, God’s Spirit is blowing bringing something new to life. “Let there be light,” the voice of God thunders, as our Psalm for today proclaims, and the light rushes in on the very breath of God to make it so.
A doctor rushes into the small waiting room and walks up before the new, trembling parents. “Her heart has stopped and we are trying to get it started again.” There is less apology or sympathy in his voice than a business-like iteration of the fact of the emergency and a reassurance to the silent pleading of the parents, “Please, please restore order out of this huge chaos for us.” “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down, oh God,” plead the Israelites in their exile.
Just then another man rushes into the waiting room, looks around at the small group, his eyes landing on the woman in the wheelchair and the young man standing at her side. “Hello, I am the chaplain here at the hospital and I want to know if you would like your baby baptized,” he asks. Who summoned him? Was this to be the order out of chaos, a baptism of a tiny creature about to die? A baptism to save her from the chaos of this life? A “just making sure that she will get to heaven? A scooping her out of the clutches of sin and hell and into the arms of a God who must want her more?
The two-day-old parents glanced at each other and shake their heads no. “No, we don’t need her baptized now,” they answer and the chaplain leaves the little group to their waiting and praying and waiting again.
Baptism–our Book of Order (or Book of Discipline) states, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” like a ring given at a wedding so that everyone who sees it will know that these two are married. Jesus comes to John along with all the other crowds who are flocking out to the wilderness to receive his baptism of repentance and forgiveness. Mark begins his story of the Good News right here, Merry Christmas. “Let there be grace in this chaos, the heavens are torn apart as if God could stand the separation no longer, the Spirit of God that was hovering over in the form of a dove, rushes in to make it so and the voice of God thunders across the waters, like the Psalm for today exclaims, “You are my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased”, an outward sign of an inward grace. A life’s ministry begins intent on making the inward grace of God visible to all who would see.
“I want to hear the voice say, ‘You are my loved child with whom I’m well pleased,’ said my young friend when I asked her why she wanted to be baptized by immersion. Her answer surprises me. I had never heard someone admit so vulnerably to wanting such an outward and visible sign of an inward grace shaken so tragically by her father’s untimely death. “I want the Spirit to hover over me, I want the heavens to be torn apart and God’s voice to thunder such an order into the chaos.
The parents, now for two months, carefully bring their tiny baby to the building where their church community gathers. The little baby, her heart brought back to beating, seems to now have a strong will to survive and thrive through the damage done to her brain; “We want our baby baptized now,” and her parents carry her in their arms to the SUNDAY Advent service of hope. It was as if this little one came back through the torn-apart heavens carried in the arms of the Angels back through the River Jordan to this font of baptism, to be with this people. “I baptize you as Jesus was baptized in the name of God your Creator, in the name of Jesus your Beloved Redeemer, and in the name of the Spirit your Preserver of life.”
And the voice of God thunders, “You are my Daughter, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” You are the outward sign of an inward and mysterious grace little one and there is perhaps no other who will carry that sign with such mystery and vulnerability into a world of chaos.
Can you imagine it? The heavens torn apart, not just opened but ripped apart never to be put back together again. God’s ripping, tired of being separated from beloved children. Can you hear it? God’s voice thundering, “You are my son, you are my daughter, my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.” And can you experience it? The Spirit, rushing in, the breath of God, stirring up new life, new hope, new grace.
My invitation to you this week is to let Mark spark your baptismal imagination. Is there one thing, one aspect, one particularity according to Mark that might change, albeit even momentarily, how you or your congregation have always imagined baptism to be? Because then you will give witness to God’s determination to deter all of our attempts at God’s domestication. For Mark, God’s entry into our humanity started at Jesus’ baptism and was then confirmed at Jesus’ crucifixion.