Luke 3:15-17, 21-11
The voice of John the Baptizer preaching in the wilderness reminds us that even the most desolate areas of the world are part of a creation that is the concern of the Creator. An arid desert of sand stretches all along the coast of Peru. Nothing can be seen but kilometre upon kilometre of undulating sand.
Here and there is a hut, or a small cluster of huts. Where do the inhabitants get water to drink, to wash in, to wash with? On a hot summer day in January, how does it feel for them to pour a bucket of water over their heads?
Over the last 40 years, people from the interior of the country have come to the capital, Lima, to settle on the dusty, dry hillsides that edge the city. When they first "invade" with their matting and cardboard to erect a shack, there is no water service, nor electricity or sewage. How do they get water?
Trucks make their routes dispensing their precious cargo of water but at a price. Over the years, the settlers fight with authorities to have the basic services installed, starting with water. These immigrants know the value of water.
About a hundred and fifty kilometres north of Lima there is a path through the desert. After about 10 kilometres of sandy dryness, you descend into a valley. Miracle upon miracle, in the "moister" months, the valley is dressed in green. The taro trees stretching their crooked branches into the misty air are clothed in green leaves. A matting of green plants and bright flowers covers the valley floor. Colourful red or yellow birds flitter among the greenery. Somehow in this hollow in the desert, the mist descends to provide water for living things. Life springs in the desert, refreshing like the water of Baptism.
Peru has had many types of government. The poor say not one has ever made any difference to them or helped them improve their standard of living. But the Peruvian people have often looked for a leader to show them the way. In the late 80´s a charismatic president filled them with excitement with his eloquence and promises. He wasn´t the saviour. Then they looked to an authoritarian pragmatist but corruption and unemployment increased. Elections are once again underway. The people are filled with expectation. What will be the result this time?
This passage has two parts: prophecy and fulfillment. From the fiery word of John the Baptizer, we would expect to encounter a leader who comes with force and physical might. Instead God's judgment is revealed in Jesus-first, as a babe in a manger; then, through a bold ministry of compassion; and finally, through the revelation of the depth of God's love in Jesus' death on a cross.
In the same way, Luke relates the dramatic events of Jesus´ baptism in a relatively neutral manner. In a few short lines Luke tells us Jesus was baptized, then of his prayer, the opened heavens, the descent of the dove and the declaration from heaven. In this gentle way Jesus receives divine confirmation of his identity as the Son of God. Baptism enhances the self-esteem of the marginalized and powerless poor of Peru as they claim their identity as children of God.
-- Rev. Katharine Bergbusch, Lima, Peru