Vermont is a great place if you like to fly fish. The cold trout streams hold their fair share of browns, rainbows, and brookies throughout the late spring and summer and into early fall. During trout season I often find myself heading out to the national forest early in the morning, or rushing out after dinner to catch the dying light. I’ve found that even on a day when I catch nothing, the beauty of the river and peaceful rhythm of casting are good enough for me.
Vermont streams aren’t always easy to fish, though, particularly if you try to wade in them. They’re rocky, the stones get slippery, and the bottoms are so uneven that one step you can be standing on fairly solid ground, and the next you can be chest deep in water. I’ve found myself thrashing so loudly in the water that I’m sure I warned every trout in the river to stay way.
After a few full-body dunks in the Deerfield River I tried to fish from the shore. It didn’t work. The fish are smart enough to stay in the deep waters, and there are enough trees around the bank that my line didn’t last that long. I realized that if I really wanted to do this, I had to wade in.
John the Baptist didn’t get his name by accident (or because he went to First Baptist Church of the Wilderness). A better translation for his name might be “John the Baptizer”. He stood by the river baptizing the people who came to him, eventually including Jesus himself. For the ones who were baptized, the waters were the mark of something new. A rededication. A physical reminder of their immersion in God’s love and grace. All the while that John was telling the people to get ready for something new, he was baptizing them. The water became a symbol of what was next.
There’s something about standing in water that reminds me that I’m a part of something bigger than myself. The winter’s snow melts into the headwaters of mountain streams in Vermont. Those streams join to form a river that merges with others south of the border with Massachusetts, and by the time the Connecticut River gushes out into the Long Island Sound, there’s no stopping it. The ocean carries those Vermont waters further than I can imagine.
The same is true of our baptism. Whether we are sprinkled with water that came from a well, or a church faucet, or a bottle of Jordan River water that someone swears their aunt brought back from her visit to Israel, or whether we are dunked headlong into a lake, it doesn’t matter. That water changes us. And it makes us a part of something bigger and greater than ourselves. It gives us the potential to participate in something we can only imagine.
Just like I’ve learned that standing on the shore of a trout stream does little good, I’ve found the less I pay attention to the waters of baptism, the less fruitful my life is as well. In fact, what I’ve learned wading trout streams has taught me something valuable. When I wade into a stream, the more I try to stay in shallow water, the more likely I am to lose my footing. But the deeper I wade, the more I become one with the current, and the more I find myself standing on a solid foundation.
In Advent we are invited to stand in deeper water. In this season Christ calls us into our baptism in new ways. We are asked to step into a small stream that is heading towards incredible places. But we get to make a decision about if, and how far in, we will wade. Sometimes that river seems cold. Sometimes it seems treacherous. And sometimes it seems rocky. But I’ve found that every time I’ve waded deep, there has been a blessing in it.
Question: Where in your faith life do you find yourself holding back out of fear? What would it mean to immerse yourself?
Prayer: Creator of the the waters, the rivers, and the seas, bless those of us who stand on the shore. Call us into the living waters. Steady our feet on rocky ground. Keep us safe in the midst of the deep. And join us with one another, bound by the blessing of our common baptismal waters. Amen.