In case you live under a rock, or if your like me and don’t really care that much, last Sunday night was the Golden Globes. My thoughts are that Benedict Cumberbatch always has the most fun. But let’s be honest. He is one of my favorite actors, but that might be because I have a small addiction to Sherlock. With these award shows come the inevitable comparisons of what people are wearing. I’ll let you get into that if you want, but I want to talk about a real fashion faux pas.
This is an ancient fashion flop…or it would be, except that the folks of the time knew what it meant. Much like how we know that a man with a bushy beard and red suit is Santa, or burly guys in suits with ear pieces are folks you don’t want to mess with (or I watch way to many action movies), and so on.
The folks in John’s time would have understood what all of that meant. the camel hair clothes, the leather belt, and even the crazy fad diet. They would have known that he was a prophet. Whenever you’re dealing with a prophet, you deal with their eccentricities.
But you do that for good reason. In life, we accept other peoples’ oddities because there is something about them that speaks to us. Sometimes it’s because they’re our weird friend. Having been that weird friend for most of my friends, I know what that really means. Sometimes its just because they’re weird, and that’s okay. Other times, their oddity is saying something really important.
This was the case with John. He was strange, he was weird, but he was telling us something incredibly important. He was there to start sharing a message.
John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The first thing to notice is at the beginning where John is calling for people to be baptized, “…to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” This is important, because it shows that a change is starting.
There’s a three part working to all of this. The first is that a change is starting. The second is the actual baptism, and the third is the coming of the Holy Spirit. John is giving us what we need to see, so that we can begin to understand just what Jesus is doing.
For us, what we can take from this, is that at Baptism, it doesn’t magically fix any problems that we have. But what it does is that it takes us another step forward as we are already changing. Its an important step, but it doesn’t mean that we have to have changed a lot already, but it recognizes that we have begun the process. We are more clearly seeing our need for Christ, and in our Baptism we are showing that we understand our need, and we shed another part of what is keeping us from him. (I’ll admit, that’s an overly simple explanation, but its a starting point).
The Baptism itself is important because it is a formal, and explicit declaration of the change that is happening, and it should always be done as a part of a community. Baptism is just as important for the community as it is for the person. Being a part of a community is what takes us even farther into the change that is taking place, and helps to open us to what Christ is doing.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is key, and it is an incredibly important part of our Baptism. It is what takes us forward. Baptism with water is a one time event, and then it’s over and done. A one time event isn’t good enough by itself, because we aren’t one-time sinners. What we need is further guidance going into the future. Jesus knows this, and it is the Holy Spirit (or as John’s Gospel also calls it–the Advocate) that helps us to live in the change that is taking place, and our desire to not be the same as we were before.
I hope, that in the midst of this somewhat rambling post, you find more meaning for your own Baptism, that it isn’t just a one-time thing, but is a sign of something greater that God is doing in you, and through you.