Jesus' Healing Waters

By Berry, Malinda Elizabeth | Sojourners Magazine, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Jesus' Healing Waters


Berry, Malinda Elizabeth, Sojourners Magazine


January is one of the worst winter months in the Midwest of the United States. Ironically, days where the sun is shining brightly are often the most bitterly cold. Inches of snow and ice replace the warm and cozy wonderland of Christmas--icicles instead of ornaments, jumper cables instead of stockings, and lots and lots of lip balm.

In many parts of the world, however, Christmas hasn't happened until January 6, when Epiphany celebrations recall the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem. If we study the history of the Christian calendar, we discover that January contains a good many feasts and celebrations--from the naming of Jesus (January 1) to remembering his baptism (January 7), to telling the story of his miraculous act of turning water into wine at Cana.

If December is oriented toward the birth of an infant during Advent and Christmastide, January seems focused on asking, "just who is this Jesus going to become?" And like the chill of January winds along drifts of snow, the answer is potent: The Magi are clear. Anna and Simeon know. Herod carries out infanticide because he is afraid of the answer. Jesus is God's beloved, whose presence in the world brings illumination, possibility, and change.

Malinda Elizabeth Berry is a dissertation fellow at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana.

JANUARY 7

Baptism by the Elements

Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Oceans, rivers, groundwater, mist, clouds, rushing streams of melted snow--water renews everything that has life. It makes perfect sense that we baptize with water, calling on God to also baptize us with Spirit and fire. Indeed, in our gospel passage, John the Baptist tells his hearers: Jesus "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:16). Earth, wind, fire, and water. All of the ancient elemental properties are part of the baptismal experience in which we are reborn according to Jesus' model--he is the new adam, an ancient Hebrew word that translates as "earth creature."

There is an "earth care" ethic in all of this. The snow plowed into piles in parking lots melts and refreezes, picking up all kinds of debris. That stuff makes its way into creeks, streams, and rivers like the Jordan. Can you imagine a baptism administered with a handful of oily, grimy slush? At the other end of the spectrum, we use water that's been chemically treated to counteract the effects of pollution that we the adam put into the water supply in the first place.

Just as God created adam, so too is God animating wind and purifying flame, and so too does God desire that the waters of the earth be healed so we can also know that we are the beloved of God through baptism.

When we read the psalmist's words--"The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders ... over mighty waters" (Psalm 29:3--let us consider how snowdrifts can change into baptismal waters.

JANUARY 14

Being God's Body

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

A reading from the gospel of John when Luke's gospel is featured in the current lectionary cycle may seem odd, but it is in keeping with the season of Epiphany.

Liturgist Laurence Stookey writes, "Jesus is the One whose ministry is to be characterized by wonders. But these wonders were not, like the magicians of the day, intended merely to astound or amuse the observer." He explains that Jesus invited others to experience the wonders he performed as reliable signs of God's glory.

Bible commentaries can tell us all kinds of interesting things about wed-cling customs in first-century Palestine, or expand on the significance of the six water vessels being empty. But in a simple reading of John 2:1-11, I wonder if we can see the water as a symbol of baptism, the wine as a symbol of the communion chalice, and the chalice as a symbol of God's reign?

The psalmist writes, "Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. …

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