The Baptism of our Lord

January 7, 2018

St. John the Baptizer said, “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” From the Gospel according to St. Mark”

Today we are celebrating the baptism of Jesus. The baptism consisted of the washing in the river, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  St. Peter mentions this in Acts 10:38: God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is the completion of the Sacrament of Baptism: The Bishop uses these words in the Sacrament of Confirmation:

“Strengthen, O Lord, your servant N. with your Holy Spirit; empower her for your service; and sustain him/her all the days
of him/her life.” ( BCP, Confirmation, words of the Bishop, p. 418)

The Holy Spirit is perhaps the least understood person of the Trinity. The word Spirit is translated from the same word that means the wind.

Of course, how do you relate to the wind? It’s easy to relate to Jesus, since he has a human face, he lived and worked on this earth, and he taught about love and forgiveness, showed us the way to the Father.

We have not seen the Father’s face, only Jesus has done that. He did tell us that if we had seen him we had seen the Father. That leaves the Spirit.

The Greek word is Pneuma, from which we get such memorable words as pneumonia. It was translated as ‘Geist’ from the German word for wind, which was changed into the word Ghost. And unless you spent some time as a Ghost Buster, you don’t really know what a Ghost looks like.

Besides, ghosts are scary, right? Don’t we get enough ghosts and goblins at Halloween? So, the English translation has become Spirit.

That still doesn’t give us much to go on. George Lucas popularized the concept of the Force in the Star Wars saga because he needed a theme of good vs. evil for the movie. He wanted to introduce a thoroughly ecumenical concept that anyone could accept, and built on the Chinese concept of Qi, (chi) meaning life force, or life spirit. I believe the Japanese have a similar concept, ki.

Since 1977, the phrase, “May the force be with you,” has been engrained in the culture. Of course, as Anglicans, we always want to add, “And also with you.”

Still, the Force is impersonal, and is hardly something worthy of our worship and adoration. Plus, it’s only available to a select few people who are deemed worthy because of some random occurrence of some alien life form in the blood. I’m sure George Lucas had a some crazy nightmare before he thought up that one!

The Holy Spirit is available to anyone who seeks him and accepts him as a person of the Trinity.

Still, without any personal form, it’s hard to relate to the Holy Spirit. He is often seen in the form of a dove, which comes from all four Gospel accounts. He is also most often associated with power.

We heard from the Acts of the Apostles today that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, and with power.

He is also associated with fire, as in St. Matthew’s account of John the Baptizer. There he said that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Remember how God first appeared to Moses? He appeared as a bush that was on fire, but was not consumed.

While all of these words point to a feeling of power, there is still not a familiar person to relate to, though we know the Holy Spirit as a person of the Trinity.

It is perhaps easier to think of him as the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of Christ, since we believe that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. (that bit is debatable, but let’s save that for another time.)

When you are baptized, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and marked as belonging to God forever. The Spirit of God is the one who acts in human history. The Spirit moves us to act on behalf of God in this world. He is the prime motivator behind the good works that we do. Without the Spirit of God, none of us could do anything truly good. All of our actions would fall short of the Glory of God.

One of my favorite phrases for meditation is the first lines of a hymn written in the 9th century, author unknown, called the Veni Creator Spiritus:

“Come, Holy Ghost our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire.”

Whenever I can’t sleep, or I’m worried about something, and find it hard to quiet my thoughts, I start repeating it over and over like a mantra, and it works wonders. Give it a try sometime. It’s in the Hymnal, number 503.

The Holy Spirit is a constant companion for us, whether we recognize him or not, so remember he will never abandon or forsake us, but will guide us into the truth for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto everlasting life. Amen.