The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Psalm 85:8-10, New Revised Standard Version
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Good morning, Friends!
Years ago I asked a Quaker pastor friend how the meeting’s new effort to
establish a conscious objection program for youth was going. The very brief reply was,
“Not very peaceful.” I believe for many of us involved in the work of the meeting could
probably relate to that sentiment. We desire peace in our ministries, but sometimes we
fall woefully short. While in seminary, one of our classes focused on worship, which
included a discussion of the sacraments. Our professor was very emphatic in the
introduction to sacraments. Sacraments such as baptism and communion can be
landmines in educating pastors; therefore, discussions need to remain respectful and
peaceful. I thought, “Well, good luck with that one.”
Traditionally, the second Sunday of Advent highlights peace. Peace can
sometimes feel and be elusive. We want peace, peace in our hearts, peace in our
families, peace in our communities, and peace in our world. Historic peace churches,
like the Quakers, pledge to work for peace and “take away all occasions for war.” I
typically do not think of baptism and peace fitting together. So, the Bible verses for the
second week in Advent presented me with a conundrum. How does the issue of
baptism provide any pathway to peace? I think that peace is a gift and not something
we can manufacture. Baptism, then, is the vehicle by which that gift is realized.
Water baptism was used historically by many ancient religions as a symbolic
means to wash away the dirt of life before participating in the divine interactions. A
Jewish philosopher named Philo once commented on the Jewish cleansing by saying,
“they remove dirt from their bodies by baths and means of purification, but they neither
desire nor seek to wash away the passions of their souls by which life is soiled.' Over
the centuries, many have recognized the physical washings do not necessarily
translate into more moral behavior.
Obviously, I did not have much interest in studying the sacraments because I do
not remember much about that in relation to church history. My thought was always,
“That nice, but who really cares. I care about behavior.” So, I engaged in research
about water baptism in an effort to understand Mark’s point. Interestingly, I found that
Christian’s have viewed water baptism as the way to peace; an entry into the life of the
divine. Mark highlighted John’s actions and words as a beginning point of Jesus’ life
and ministry. John’s words provides guidance for us. “I have baptized you with water,
but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit descended like a dove on
Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. The Holy Spirit descended on the fearful
disciples like a flame after Jesus’ death and resurrection. These were physical symbols
of a spiritual gift. It is initiated by God and not something we can produce on our own.
So then, does that we mean we do nothing? The New Testament word for peace
can also mean be at one, quietness, and restfulness. Like those who followed John
and then Jesus, we tend to seek out a relationship. In our case, a relationship with the
divine through following Jesus. We make a choice to align with the Divine through the
deciding to go forward within that relationship.
When looking at a significant relationship in terms of receiving gifts, I think of the
physical process of receiving a meaningful gift. There is some type of significant
relationship. There is a closeness and intimacy to that relationship. As I receive a gift,
my hands need to be free of other stuff to take the gift. So, we need to remain in
relationship and nurture it, to remain open and receptive, and keep our hands and
hearts open to the Holy Spirit’s gifts. As we move into open worship, I invite you to
ponder some questions: How have I neglected that relationship? Where have I closed
myself off from that relationship? What might I need to put down to free my “hands”
up? May God grant you the gift of peace. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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