As radio telescopes grow more powerful (and more numerous), astronomers keep stumbling across strange things. Just yesterday astronomers in Canada shared something inexplicable: a “fast radio burst” (FRB) from deep space, 1.5 billion light years away. No one knows yet what to make of these FRBs, more and more frequent in recent years. Sometimes they aren’t even what they appear: a famous incident beginning in 1998 was discovered to have been caused by staff members at the telescope heating up lunch in the office microwave oven. Additionally, even in the minute, infinitesimal chance these signals originated from sentient life elsewhere in the universe, we have absolutely no way to respond. We are left only to listen and receive these inexplicable bursts of radio information. Yet the listening expands our imagination of the cosmos and, as Christians, our awe at the majesty of God’s created order.
Receiving without responding is hard for us. Christmas cards generally get sent to people who send us cards, too. Gifts are given to people who reciprocate. Sometimes people give us a gift that obviously cost more or had more thought and love poured into it than what we give them. We respond by saying “this is too much!” or “I can’t accept this.” There is a specific feeling of powerlessness that comes from receiving something grander than what we could ever share.
This Sunday in worship we will celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, the Sunday when the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven spoke so all could hear “you are my Son, whom I dearly love, in you I find happiness.” (Luke 3:22) Whether baptism happens as it does most frequently in our United Methodist tradition prior to the ability of the recipient to speak for him or herself, or in a tradition practicing “believer’s baptism,” the shared understanding is that baptism is a gift we cannot reciprocate. Baptism is initiation and invitation into the eternal family of God, forgiveness, grace, salvation… the only thing we can do is receive it and live in such a way that illustrates our profound gratitude.
In this case, it is truly better to receive and to help others receive this gift as well. May it be so!
Grace and Peace,
Reading for your consideration:
When word reached the apostles in Jerusalem that Samaria had accepted God’s word, they commissioned Peter and John to go to Samaria. Peter and John went down to Samaria where they prayed that the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit. (This was because the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) So Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Acts 8:14-17 (CEB)