There was a bumper sticker that someone had on their office door: “Faith = Risk.” Does that evoke fear, excitement or disinterest for you? If you ever try to do anything significant, anything that helps others, anything that can change the world, you step into troubled waters. Stepping into the water is always a risk. I remember my first experience of learning to swim which was extremely traumatic. Being taken into a river in New Zealand and left on log where the water around me was over my head. I was left there to make my own way back to the river bank and theoretically to gain confidence in water and swim. I was there in fear for a number of hours before finally overcoming that fear. What a risk but although still somewhat fearful I can now go into the water.
We depend on water, yet from earliest times humans have that known water is dangerous, unpredictable. Storms and tsunamis cause the sea to break its bounds, rain causes rivers to rise and desert gullies to rage with flash floods. Even a wading pool is deep enough to drown in. In the beginning, God wades into the water. Creation happens when God steps into the disorder of the universe and begins to weave it into patterns of life, of justice, of love. In the Gospel of Mark, the good news begins when Jesus steps into the water. The same is true of us. The good news begins when the water of Jesus washes over us, setting us free and setting us forth on a mission—albeit a risky one.
We hear two things in this story of Jesus’ baptism. First, he did not drown in the water. But it set him forth on a journey into the chaos of the human heart, with sufferings he could not have imagined on that first day. Second, was that an amazing word comes when Jesus steps into the water: “Beloved.” Weigh the risk of ministry against the reward. Wading into the water of life in Christ = risk. Yet, it leads to the experience of God’s love, and the joy that comes when you hear that word, “Beloved,” and then share it with the world.
It can be said that Love tore the heavens open and spoke. If Jesus didn’t comprehend the fullness of his being before that moment, with the help of John the Baptist at the Jordan River, his eyes were opened and he now understood. As Gregory of Nyssa says, all these things are a figure of ourselves. The Voice tears open the heavens to declare us Beloved. Long ago, the unborn infant John recognised Jesus, the baby John leaps for joy as the two mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, recognise one another, filled with the Holy Spirit.
The water of birth prefigures the Jordan River water and rebirth. Now the two men face each other, their destinies before them. The Spirit descends upon them and “The Lord’s voice is over the waters.” They recognise each other— the bridegroom and the bridegroom’s friend— together, at the start of this last, self-sacrificial era of their lives. Or, perhaps, as before, they recognise and dedicate themselves to something entirely new. They meet again over the waters of new birth. To touch this water is to say yes to the movement of the Holy Spirit— to new life, to new birth. It is to say yes to the Something Unseen waiting for you and to recognise that something, that is strangely familiar, but absolutely new.
“Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptised; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.”