Between water and fire

I have shared before how, at the age of 14, a word of prophecy was spoken over my life which left me a little skeptical, and a lot afraid:

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:

‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 43:1-2 (NIV)

Today, as I was reflecting on the foundation of my faith story as part of a six-week in-life retreat, I had an epiphany: that it has often been in the most difficult moments of my journey (the desolation) that I have grown the most in faith and humility and obedience.

The image above came into my mind of how God has held me through it all; for there have been fires and floods aplenty.

So … for those who – like the Wise Men that we remember today – are setting out on an adventure, answering God’s call, or just taking life’s journey step by small step with little or no certainty of how they are going to get through today, let alone tomorrow, a promise and a prayer:

God of Israel, God of Jacob,
God who creates, who names,
who forms, and transforms,
let me live this day in the space between
the blazing fire of Pentecost
and the cool waters of baptism.

When life’s flames threaten to burn,
and the floods to sweep me way,
keep me from fear –
for I live here:
safe in your hand.

Hold me in this place –
despite the discomfort:
here where the fire tests and purifies and refines me
but can do no harm;
here where the waters wash me clean and smooth out my rough edges
so that I rise reborn but never undone.

And may I live through all –
the light and the dark,
the joy and the sorrow,
the searching and the knowing,
the wrestling and the growing –
to proclaim Your faithfulness
to all generations,
Great God who never lets me go.

Day Eight: Open Up The Way

Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

During the first week of Advent, our call to watch and wait for the coming of Christ found expression in our lament for God to turn us again:
~ from the busyness that dulls our aching need for a Saviour,
~ from the pain of the world that makes us wonder where God actually is at times,
~ from the hopelessness and despondency that comes from seeing the “wicked” prosper time and time again,
~ from our apathy and inactivity in the face of the immensity of the world’s problems,
~ from our fair-weather faith and half-hearted commitment to live in loving relationship with God,
~ from the rubble and ruin of our plans and ambitions,
~ and from those who exercise authority over us in destructive and debilitating ways.

Which “turning from” was of most significance to you?

Which will be the hardest to maintain?

The readings throughout this second week give us a glimpse of what we’re headed towards as we invite God to open up the way to the good fortune and forgiveness, love and faithfulness, peace and righteousness that are characteristic of God’s coming shalom community (Ps. 85).

Today, in particular, we immerse ourselves again in the familiar story of John the Baptist who came, as the prophet Isaiah had said, to prepare for God’s arrival (Isaiah 40:3-5, Mark 1:2-4).

The message he preached was simple: forgiveness was possible; the old could be washed away; and One was coming with such power and presence that all could be transformed from the inside out.

We claim both the hope and the truth of that message through the sacrament of Baptism: that outward symbol of our inward turning from our old way of life to a new way of kingdom-living.

As a Christian, I have no memory of my own baptism as I was a toddler at the time; and as a teenager and young adult, I struggled to understand how something I could not even recall was supposed to be so significant.

But as a mother who has placed her children into a minister’s outstretched arms and entrusted them into the care of Christ and his Church, the imagery of Isaiah has special significance:

“Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture”
(Isaiah 40:11, The Message).

This is the One of whom John the Baptist spoke with such reverence: a Gathering God – the Good Shepherd – who bundles us up in his arms and hugs us to his heart as he carries us and leads us to good pasture ….

On a large piece of paper express what the words “good pasture” may look like in your life – you may want to draw, paint, put together a collage, use words. Feel free to add to it over the course of the week.

***
Alternatively, you may want to remember your baptism. Ask a parent or family friend to share any memories they may have. Look through family documents for a picture or a certificate. If you have children, tell them the story of their baptism and why it’s significant. 

If you are not yet baptised, you may want to explore this further with your pastor and/or faith community.