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Christmas 1, Year B
The Baptism of Laura Clare Buzo
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 28, 2014

Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

‘Steeped in Spirit’

On Christmas Day I spent half the day in the pool at my sister’s place. For joy it seemed like half the day. It had been a while since I’d enjoyed swimming and splashing about like that. The clouds grew thicker and darker. The lightning zapped and the thunder clapped. We just kept on swimming throwing a ball for a nephew or niece or uncle to catch and we didn’t feel cold at all. On this fourth day of Christmas we have water to prayerfully pour and splash about in celebration of God’s love for Laura. With the prophet Anna we proclaim this love as a fulfilled promise. In the name of Jesus the Messiah, God be with you ...

I am drawn to the figure of Anna (Hannah [see 1 Samuel]). Scholars surmise that she is from a family of exiles (the northern tribe of Asher), scattered yet steeped in the traditions of Israel; steeped in the hopes of her people and culture. She expresses her love for Jerusalem, the Torah and the Temple in her continual worship at the Temple complex.

What’s beautiful here is the picture of a woman steeped in religion, steeped in tradition, and thus able to discern its promise, its openness to the future. Anna, with Simeon, discerns that God’s Anointed is a baby of a poor couple (they offer the sacrifice prescribed for the poor [Leviticus 12:1-8]), also devout (presenting themselves for “purification”, their child for “consecration” [Exodus 13:1]), also displaced (on the move from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Jerusalem; on their way back to Nazareth).

Anna is like an elderly elder keenly interested/invested in the revolutionary music of the younger members of the congregation. I say “revolutionary” because all the songs in Luke’s Gospel are about revolution from Mary’s “Magnificat” to Zechariah’s redemption song; from the heavenly host before the lowly shepherds to Simeon’s subversive song (the “Nunc Dimittis”) with its note of reversal: “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” ...

Revolutionary because Anna and her younger cohorts anticipate “deliverance”, freedom from all that prevents or diminishes peace and justice.

Revolutionary because a wise elder knows that a living faith is ever embodied in a new generation, in a new context. Traditionally, baptism involves fresh or living water. Its Christian emblem is the River Jordan site of Israel’s national birth and the baptism of Jesus in support of Israel’s calling to serve; in solidarity with human frailty and capacity for love.

Traditionally, then, baptism involves fresh or living expressions of faith, hope and love. As believers, we are poets steeped in language. We are lovers steeped in Spirit.

Musician Anjani Thomas says of Leonard Cohen that he has “a blessed talent to inhabit language, and it gives him an ability to go to the extremes of the human condition. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to go there”. I’m pretty sure Laura understands this, and appreciates this notion of inhabiting language swimming with words in waters deep and dark; refreshing, rejuvenating waters.

I was thrilled to learn of Laura’s love for Tori Amos, a poet-performer of dense metaphoric lyrics, feminist themes and rippling piano melodies.

Her own creative writing is both courageous and refreshing. Reading her novel Holier Than Thou was a deeply moving experience. I thought how good it was for my soul, and I knew again that for all its practical aspects language is something very mystical. In creative writing, says Steven Shakespeare, the human and the divine intersect or interflow.

Scripture (sacred writing) is a special case. A canonical/communal site of prayer and study. Still, it seems that astute readers of the Bible are writers of some kind; that only by immersion in the sacred story a story that shapes us and the stories we tell are the depths of faith, hope and love tradition-ed, handed from one generation to another.

Shakespeare puts it succinctly, with a rhyme: “The stories we tell ... their power to change lives, awaken ... repeat the relation that God has to creation.”

In the liturgy of baptism that follows there are several references to death, as we’d expect in light of a love that’s willing to endure rather than inflict suffering. As we’d expect of a cross-bearing Messiah and messianic community.

But union with this Messiah/Christ, co-operation with this Anointed One, is primarily and ultimately about life. It is related, intimately, to Mary’s co-operation with Abba God. It is an invisible/indelible writing upon the body that the one baptised might become a co-writer with the Word made flesh. Practical and mystical indeed.

Laura, we love you. And God loves you wholly/holy. Amen.