First Sunday after the Epiphany January 10, 2016
Baptism by fire
“Baptism by fire” suggests a form of initiation by trial, a very difficult entry into some new chapter or experience of life—like your first organic chemistry class in college. On this Sunday, something brand new is afoot. People can sense it. The messianic hope is thick in the air, and this Elijah-like prophet named John is doing something very different. He has started a movement asking people to turn from old ways; he accuses the Pharisees and welcomes the poor, calls for the end of exhortation and the start of forgiveness and mercy. He is baptizing people into this movement.
When they ask him if he is the awaited Messiah, he denies it and says there will be yet another . . . one who baptizes with fire.
What can this mean? When this Jesus appears and is baptized before the people, there is no fire. There is a dove, the heavens open, and the voice of God proclaims Jesus a Son, beloved and well-pleasing—but there is no fire.
The fire comes later . . . after a crucifixion and resurrection: the fire on the heads of the terrified disciples—the Holy Spirit. Many of us were baptized as infants in the loving arms of our parents and godparents. There was probably cake, and we were nicely dressed. Our fire would come later. Perhaps it has come and gone. What-ever form that fire took, let us reflect on that and look for the Holy Spirit in that “baptism.” How did that “baptism by fire” shape our character? In the midst of that trying time, did we hear the voice of God saying, “You are my son, you are my daughter, with whom I am well-pleased—my beloved”?
Amy Gohdes-Luhman, pastor, Waconia Moravian Church, Waconia, Minnesota