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." 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." -Luke 3:15-17,21-22
On This Week's Prompts for Personal Meditation
Long ago, the unborn infant John recognizes Jesus, unseen, womb to womb. The baby John leaps for joy as the two mothers, recognizing one another, fill with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41-4) Amniotic water prefigures Jordan River water and re-birth. Now the two grown men face one another, their grim destinies before them. Again the Spirit descends upon them and The Voice of the Holy is heard above the waters (Psalm 29:3).
Great, those long ago mothers recognizing the sacred in the mundane. Great was his grace that poured the mystic waters (meditation one). Great the soul stepping into the stream. Great the soul losing self in the current (meditation two). Great the man or woman coming forth from the stream to act in the world in humility of spirit (meditation three).
Many liturgical churches will have a ceremony of the renewal of Baptismal vows this Sunday. May awe unbalance us in the mystic stream. - Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) In Praise of John
Hair of the camel furnished a coarse raiment To your blessed members; leather your girdle;
You drink the cold spring, food for you wild honey Mingled with locusts.
All other prophets, in their hearts divining, Sang of the light coming to the people;
Your finger touched the Lamb of God who takes Sin from the world.
None has arisen in the mighty spaces Of round earth’s borders holier than John was:
Great was his grace who poured the mystic waters O’er the Redeemer.
-Paul, deacon of Apulia, c720-799 An Advent Sourcebook, Liturgy Training Publications
A Little Tour of this Russian Icon
Russian Icon, 1430-40
Jesus immersed in water; naked, humble, vulnerable in his humanity, but also the new Adam. The water as tomb and womb pre-figures the crucifixion and resurrection. Sometimes the chasm-look of the water is interpreted as the descent into hell. John the Baptist, at one with the landscape of the desert, completely dependent upon God, humbles himself to baptize the Messiah. Angels, reminiscent of the Trinity (often there are three rather than the four in this template). Their postures also suggest receiving Christ, as in the Eucharist, hands veiled in respect.
(exerpt referencing the teachings of the early Church theologians)
(Water) possessed of itself a cleansing property and for this further reason was regarded as holy: hence its use in ritual ablution, where its properties washed away all offences and all stain of guilt. The waters of baptism alone wash away sin, and baptism is only conferred once because it opens the way to a new state, that of the new person. … The cleansing properties possessed by water gave it the additional force of the power of redemption. Immersion was regenerative, it effected a rebirth in the sense of its being simultaneously alive and dead. Water wipes out what has gone before, since it restores the individual to a fresh condition. Immersion is like Christ’s entombment. He came to life again after descending into the bowels of the Earth. Water is the symbol of regeneration and the waters of baptism lead explicitly to being 'born again' (John 3:3-7). They are the means of initiation. The Shepherd of Hermes speaks of those 'who go down into the waters dead and come up again alive.'
- The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, Chevalier & Gheerbrant p.1084
The Baptism of Jesus, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestar's Bible Historiale, 1372
Meditation Two (insight) I felt the current take me
What was in that candle’s light that opened and consumed me so quickly? Come back, my Friend! The form of our love is not a created form. Nothing can help me but the Beauty. There was a dawn I remember
when my soul heard something from Your soul. I drank water
Meditation Three (integration) humility and potential On both sides there is great humility … "Suffer it to be so now," says the Lord, "For thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." John acquiesced and obeyed; he baptized the Lamb of God, and washed the waters. It was we who were cleansed, not He; for we know that the waters were cleansed in order that we might be washed by them.
- Bernard of Clairveaux 1090-1153 In Epiphania Domini I.6-7 If there is anything I have learned about men and women, it is that there is a deeper spirit of altruism than is ever evident. Just as the rivers we see are minor compared to the underground streams, so, too, the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what people carry in their hearts unreleased or scarcely released.
-Albert Schweitzer 1875-1965
The Last Word Today the Lord comes to be baptized, so that humankind may be lifted up; today the one who never has to bow inclines himself before his servant so that he may release our chains; Today we have acquired the kingdom of heaven: indeed, the kingdom of heaven that has no end.
-excerpt, Orthodox Liturgy, Feast of the Theophany
The Father is the Spring, the Son is called the stream and we are said to drink the Spirit.
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" - Mark 10:38
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. -Romans 6:3-4