It gave me great joy yesterday to see everything so green after the rain. I am sure we are all taking delight in the clean fresh scent and the signs of new life. It would not be too fanciful I think to say that our bit of the world has been ‘baptised’ over the last few days.
The great medieval Christian mystic Hildegaard of Bingen coined a particular word for such ‘greening ‘ of the earth. She called it ‘veriditas’, from the Latin word for green. For her it best described the first shoots of green leaves poking through the white snow after a long winter in her native Europe. It was the sign of new life. And so too for us, as rain restores life to our parched land we see fresh potential for life in the renewed greenness of our land.
When we think about baptism and the ministry of John the Baptist which we recall today, veriditas, the ‘greening’, is a good picture to have in our minds. It is a picture that works at many levels. It describes the ‘greening’ of the outer world, the created order on which we rely for daily life. It describes the ‘greening’ of our inner world, the work of God in our individual souls. And it describes as well the transformative work of the Holy Spirit within our society and wider political systems...
But of course John was only the beginning – the first shower of rain if you like. As Mark says as he begins his story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the story of John is ‘the beginning of the good news’. John fulfilled the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures, that before the Messiah, the saviour, came there would be a forerunner, one who would prepare the way – Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. And he prepares the way by offering this opportunity of a new start, of a washing away of the past and a new beginning. He signals that what the Messiah will bring is healing and transformation. John begins the process, but he acknowledges that there is much more to be done, “I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”
So what about us? We too live in a world gone wrong, with much oppression and violence at many levels. Both as individuals and as nations and as a whole planet we long for healing, wholeness and restoration. Baptism is a once and forever sacrament – once we have been baptised we do not need to be baptised again. Yet we know that our need for repentance and forgiveness, for washing and beginning again is on going. The Holy Spirit at work in us, is constantly bringing fresh showers to the parched earth of our souls, and touching us once more with greenness.
So whether our baptism is today, or long ago, today is an opportunity to turn again towards God. It is an opportunity to ask for salvation, for healing and wholeness, whether for our own body mind and spirit; or for the body of Christ that is the church; or for the body that is our planet earth, with all its many wounds. For this prayer for wholeness is a prayer that God in Christ always hears. As surely as the green shoots return to Europe after the snows of winter; as surely as the green grass shoots up from the parched soil of Toowoomba after rain; just as surely Christ the water of life brings showers of healing upon our lives and world whenever we ask in faith.
So in this Advent time, this time of preparation for the coming of Christ, let us turn again to God in repentance, and welcome the veriditas, the greening of our souls, as Christ pours new life into our very being by his Holy Spirit. Amen