In the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, 'Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I ,have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.'
Root and Branch
Last week there was some pretty bad weather. Nothing, thankfully like the snow that afflicted us during Christmas 2010, but the weather was bad. The most significant aspect of this meteorological unpleasantness was the wind. For about three days, heavy Atlantic wind and rain lashed the countryside. As the storm passed a considerable amount of damage was done. What took most of the brunt of the gusts were trees. In parts of the country many roads were blocked of partially blocked by falling trees – thank God, no one was hurt.
I noticed something about trees during the storm. There are no leaves this time of the year. It is very impressive the sound the wind makes when it blows through the naked branches of trees. Most of the trees could bend and resist the tempest, not falling to the ground. If the storm had come in June or July, when there was a think blanket of vegetation, the trees may not have fared so well. Nature, in its own way, knows what it is doing when autumn becomes ‘the fall.’ The sails, as it were, were down. Most of the trees that did tumble were old and rotten, or wrapped in ivy and weeds making them easy prey for the fury of winter.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and in so doing we have a chance to reflect on our own baptism. Christmas has been celebrated, the Magi have presented their gifts, today God is revealed in a most spectacular way in Jesus. We all have a share in this glory, by the grace of the Sacrament of Baptism. The trees I referred to, can possibly be used as a little reminder of what we are about when it comes to baptism.
In the waters of Baptism we sink deep into the very life of God. We are submerged into God’s eternal life. The Spirit is poured into our hearts and looking at Jesus we can also hear the voice of the Father. The roots are deep and strong. We are in God and God is in us. We are also rooted in the Church. We are baptized into the faith of the Church, so that even if we do not always understand what we are about, we have the support of the community, which is the Body of Christ. These are the roots that keep us firmly on the path of salvation, the roots that give us strength when the wind blows.
The second thing is the leaves. When a tree has leaves and there is violent wind there is every chance that just the right amount of force applied will bring it to the ground. When our lives are laden with sin, worries and anxieties, it is far more likely that we will fall. If my life is choked with regret and guilt, how can I rejoice in the presence of God? Baptism washes sin away. It takes away the sins that obscures us from the light of God. We are free to choose what is right and what is wrong, we are no longer slaves to sin – we have an innate freedom as a child of the Most High. Of course, we have the capability to sin (and we do sin) but we also have the gift of freedom.
So what am I saying? A dead tree in winter is the perfect model of the Christian life?! Not exactly. Our call is to live to the very fullest, to bloom and grow, to reflect the beauty of our Creator. The fullness of that life will be revealed in the presence of the Trinity in Heaven. There we fear no wind or storm. As we journey though this world on our pilgrim journey, the weather is not always fair. Wind often buffets us left and right. There are so many decisions and choices we have to take. Rooted in the Church we have a safe dwelling where we can encounter God in the Word and the Sacraments. Trees in a wood will survive a storm better that it would out in a field by itself.