Baptism: Fire and Water
As I write this – the morning of November 27 – I’m praying, as I’m sure many in Santa Barbara are praying: God, let the ground hold below the burn scar!”
A general anxiety began to seep into me when I woke up last night to the sound of the rain; I’d been halfway hoping it wouldn’t come. The sound of it reminded me of lying in bed and hearing the first rain after the Thomas fire. On that January morning we were preparing to honor the Baptism of the Lord. Today, almost two years later, I find myself pondering the second Sunday of Advent. John the Baptist again appears, here proclaiming the one who is coming after him, “who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Baptism: fire and water. Before living in Santa Barbara I never knew what a volatile combination that could be. And yet it’s what we face, physically and spiritually, as rain falls on ground scarred by flames.
It is precisely here, in the face of our human fragility and vulnerability, that the poetry of Isaiah comes to us, and there are no more hopeful words to be found in all of scripture. It’s good to recall that Isaiah was writing at a critical moment in the history of Israel. War and its bitter aftermath, defeat and destruction were real to him. Yet he speaks of a “holy mountain” where there will be “no harm or destruction.”
God’s majesty is that mountain. It is the ground of wisdom, a prophetic wisdom that works through Isaiah – and through you and me, if we allow it – as the capacity not so much to predict the future as to face it and engage it with God’s own strength and creativity. Come fire or flood, it is where our baptism is meant to firmly plant us.
Fr. Dan ofm, Pastor