Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:17, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
“Nobody grows old by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” – Samuel Ullman
John the Baptist, what a character! Once in our parish at a children’s program the person playing John the Baptist wore purple hair. That was not that much more bizarre than the description of John given in Matthew. But perhaps John is not bizarre in Matthew’s account after all. He was simply striking as was his message, as striking as purple hair. John preaches a baptism of repentance. This was unique. It was not Christian baptism, not Hindu baptism, not even Jewish proselyte baptism, even if all those have some element of repentance. John’s baptism certainly had an element of turning from sin. We could learn from that, and maybe turn from racism, snobbism, manipulative capitalism or even competitive church politics. However, John’s repentance (root of the word meaning “turn”) had more to do with turning “to” something rather than just turning “from” sin. John was preparing the way for Jesus who would baptize with “the “Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Sin impedes, obstructs our spiritual journey. John wants there to be an unimpeded straight path between Jesus and us. Then with Jesus’ baptism we can feel the holy breath and be enthused, and have fire in the belly, and even walk barefoot across hot coals, the hot coals of life’s problems. Such would be our enthusiasm. We lose this enthusiasm, douse water on the fire, when we domesticate what Jesus offers, or opt for the minimalism of nationalism or a mere feel good religion.
In Matthew 3:7 it says that people were coming “for baptism” (NRSV, NJB, ESV). However, the Greek says they were coming for “his baptism,” emphasizing John’s own unique take of repentance and preparing the way.
Matthew refers to the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). In Greek the word can also be translated wind or breath. Jesus’ Holy Breath gives us life and enthuses us.
Set all aflame by our Lord.
Be ablaze, baptized.