Read the Gospel text here: Luke 3:15-22
Fire, Water & Wind
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2
Fire, water and wind: natural elements necessary for life; natural elements capable of sustaining life and also capable of destroying life. But these elements are featured prominently in our lessons for today both for their life-giving and life-destroying aspects. The prophet Isaiah in the passage from chapter 43 is writing to a dispirited and lost people who are in exile in Babylon. These are people who had literally been through the fire as they fled their beloved city Jerusalem as it burned to the ground in a huge conflagration. These are people who had experienced waves upon waves of Babylonian soldiers overrunning their city and their homes; waves upon waves of destruction and death. And now they languish in a far away land that is not their home; a land that is the land of their conquerors: Babylon. By the waters of Babylon we lay down and wept when we remembered Zion… they sing sorrowfully. The prophet writes in response and promises God’s never-failing presence with God’s people – no matter what! Through the fire and through the waters God is there and will bring purification rather than destruction through fire, and life rather than death through the waters!
The brief passage from Acts presupposes that we remember a couple very important things: 1st that the Samaritans had had an experience of being displaced by the Assyrians just like the Judeans by the Babylonians. The Samaritans had also gone through waves of destruction and fire. The hatred and mistrust that had arisen between the Samaritans and Judeans went back to the division of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms and to these invasions and the subsequent re-settlement. Samaritans are of the same faith of Abraham as are the Judeans. Samaria in the north was comprised of 10 of the tribes of Israel, and Judah in the south was comprised of two tribes. 2nd – our passage today is taken from chapter 8. Beginning with the account of the day of Pentecost in chapter two, Acts then moves from one story to another of the work of the Holy Spirit (literally in Greek: Holy Wind). The Pentecost story of chapter two had the rushing wind (Spirit), tongues of fire and concluded with Baptism with water. In chapter 8 the fires of persecution are now raging – led by Saul of Tarsus – and have already claimed a victim: Stephen. But even in the midst of these destructive fires God will bring forth life through the waters of Baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit! And this Spirit will ignite a fire of its own – a fire of holiness and grace that will even engulf Saul himself.
The Gospel text brings all of this together. The “unquenchable fire” which will rage and destroy because of human wickedness and “sin” will in fact be quenched through the life-giving waters of Baptism. And the Holy Spirit (Holy Wind) will descend upon Jesus and all of God’s children empowering them and working God’s will through them. This Spirit will ignite a new fire – the fire of God’s grace and love which will burn brightly in the hearts of all baptized believers. We who have been baptized have been washed clean of our self-centeredness, our Sin; we have been buried with Christ and raised to a new life in Jesus. We who have been baptized have been given a light, a flame that represents the power of Christ’s love. We who have been baptized have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit that burns in our hearts and leads us to live lives that reflect this fire of God’s love.
The Kingdom of God is in our midst. The Kingdom of God has broken into our world. The light of Christ will dispel and destroy the darkness. No matter the darkness that we confront we have this promise from Isaiah – God’s knows us by name, God loves us, God is with us, nothing will overcome us.