[#pictureAdvent] December 17: BAPTISM

15 Dec 17 Baptism-01.jpg

By Rev. Chris Sanders and Rev. Charissa Jaeger-Sanders
Chris is the Pastor at John Wesley UMC, and Charissa serves as Director of Grace Works Studio
Tallahassee, FL

First, read John 1:23-28

As pastors, it is an amazing experience and privilege to participate in the sacrament of baptism. The two of us have both had the privilege of holding an infant in our arms, scooping water in our hands, and placing that water on the child’s head, noticing the look of amazement in his or her eyes.

This sacramental initiation into Christ’s holy church, Christ’s called out community, is a special moment. For adults, it embodies a personal confession of their faith. For infants, it represents the recognition of the beginning of the faith journey, whereby prevenient grace is and has already been at work in their lives; it is a sign of what is to come: a personal profession of faith where they choose to surrender their lives to Christ by loving God and loving neighbor. They have received this inexplicable and unconditional love of God in Christ, and they want to share it.

As John the Baptist stood on the banks of the Jordan River, he was a messenger for the coming Messiah, a messenger for the coming embodiment of God’s love among the people. He offered people the opportunity to confess their sins and to cleanse their hearts. In this way, their lives were being prepared for the coming Messiah. Like infant baptism, this baptism was not the end of the journey but the beginning.

This preparatory baptism done through John reminds us that Advent embodies an entire journey and season of preparation, of which we are nearly three quarters of the way through. While we wait and hope, we also prepare. 

These four weeks are spent preparing our hearts for the coming Messiah. We prepare our hearts through prayer, study, spiritual disciplines, the confession of our sins, and cleansing of our hearts, so that when the birth of the Christ Child arrives, our hearts are open and ready to receive him.

The word baptism connotes a ritual cleansing, a fresh start. John was immersing people in the waters of the Jordan as a sign of preparation and a willingness to receive what God had in store for them. Each of our journeys provides opportunities for fresh starts. Baptism can also have the connotation of being overwhelmed. 

This Advent season, how can we immerse ourselves in the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit? How can we allow the presence of God to fully overwhelm us and awaken us, in the best possible way? How can we make more space and prepare more room for this Immanuel, God who abides with us?

One of the hymns we sing at Christmas is “Joy to the World.” The lyrics of the first stanza say:

    Joy to the world, the Lord is come
    Let earth receive her King
    Let every heart
    Prepare Him room
    And heaven and nature sing
    And heaven and nature sing
    And heaven and heaven and nature sing
    
The words, “let every heart prepare him room,” are an invitation to be intentional in the season of preparation, so that your heart may be ready to receive and experience the ever-abiding presence of our Lord, Immanuel.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, cleanse our hearts, as we confess where our lives have stepped out of balance, out of the dance of life that you have wanted for us. Prepare us for the coming of the Messiah that we may graciously receive him. Renew us and bind us together. Send us out into the world sharing Your love, that the Christ child embodies, to all that we meet. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

1. Part of this season and in every season of life involves asking ourselves questions that help us to recenter. Consider what you truly hope to get out of the rest of this season. Are you hoping to connect more deeply with God? Maybe hoping to spend more quality time with your family and close friends? Perhaps even making space for yourself to continue to become and evolve into who God is shaping you to be. What things do you need to let go of in order for these things to be a priority? How can you intentionally make space?

2. Now look not only at the next week or so, but also beyond the season of Advent. What about your life needs to be re-centered? Where does your current rhythm not embody your goals or priorities? What needs to change?

3. What are the spiritual disciplines that you practice that help you to experience the presence of God washing over you? How can you cultivate these spiritual disciplines more?