To go to the End first - some of the people of Jesus' time had started to give up on what these days we'd call a worked-out, political agreement to the problems of the Middle East. Having been free and captured, scattered and brought together again repeatedly in the past, the Jews had been under the rule of the Romans - their governors, like Pilate, and their puppet kings, like the Herods - for a couple of generations. And as the legions rolled into town and back, and as the minor rebellions were crushed with military efficiency and the cruelty of crucifixion - for the Romans somehow have managed to sell themselves as a civilized race, despite being one of the biggest bunches of evil beggars in history - it looked like things were pretty well set for ever. And so people started to look up to the skies for salvation, and into their hearts rather than at the here and now of the land - and they wrote of a great redeemer and they started to dream apocalyptic dreams.
And a Day of Wrath, when there Earth is consumed in ashes - is a forecast scientific event. The world has about 500m years before the heat of an expanding Sun boils off all CO2 so, the plants die. It then fries the remaining rocky ball to a cinder after about a billion. 500m years. That's all that life on Earth has got. The Sun itself is about halfway through it we life - has about another 3 or 4 billion before it too dies. The Universe itself, lest we think that escaping from the Earth will enable Humanity to last forever, will gradually run down into chaos and meaninglessness. In one way, it will never end, as it won't go away. It'll just sit there - forever - useless.
So, if I've not had the chance to say it yet, Happy New Year.
Why don't we go to the other side - look at the story of creation? And some of the Jews - the ones who were maybe waiting for a redeemer, maybe wondering why He hadn't got here yet - and they wondered what to do about it. And maybe some of them thought, maybe they should work harder to be good Jews - not a bad thing to be, in any time. And they could try and be more disciplined, maybe, and hedge their Law around so they didn't accidentally break it - and invent new laws, just outside the proper religious Law - to keep themselves well away from it. But maybe some of them looked inside themselves and they found sin, and lust, and ambition, and hatred - and realised that they weren't actually, fundamentally, great people. And though their Law could keep them from physically sinning - it wasn't keeping them from wanting to. And they realised that what they needed to be, wasn't better people but new people. Maybe they looked ahead to their Day of Reckoning - and figured this world was doomed. And they needed to line themselves up with another world - a less doomed one.
And John came, preaching a message of baptism for the repentance of sins. And plunging into the river, and having water poured over themselves - maybe they saw that as a return to the waters of creation - which God first separated in Genesis 1 - God separated the waters above the earth, from the waters below. And life teemed in between the two:
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.And maybe they saw the baptism as a return to the waters of the womb - the waters that break when a baby is about to be born. Or maybe they saw it as joining in with Moses, when he piled up the waters of the Sea of Reeds and the people of Israel became a new nation - or Joshua, when he stood the waters of the Jordan up on end and the people of Israel took possession of their land. A whole host of ideas of new beginnings.
And scientifically, the story of Evolution has a similar pattern - life comes from the water. Life evolves in the teeming chemical soups of the early seas. And land life is born when the first lung fishes drag themselves out onto the land, grab a taste of the murky air, and think - do you know what, there's room to grow here. Let's give it a go. And then wasn't it Douglas Adams who suggested that leaving the seas might have been a bad idea in the first place?
So the story of Baptism is a story of death and life - of plunging back to our source, and new beginnings. It's about identifying our doomed-ness, and relating ourselves to a new life - a new source of life - a less doomed one. Jesus went through the act with us - symbolically in that baptism - John tries to talk him out of it, "You should be baptising me, and you want me to baptise you?" But Jesus is having none of it. If the Son of God is going to share our lives - he's going to share all of it. He's gonna plunge back through the whole story of human creation - into the darkness of our pasts, the darkness of where we come from, and the source of all human life - and he's gonna crash out, gasping, into the world of light - the world of the future - the world that has a hope.
And if he's going to do that then, through our baptism, we are doing the same thing. This baptism of Jesus is the story of his life on earth. And if we let him grasp us on his trajectory, we die with him - go on dying with him every day - and one day, rise with him.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.'