Mikvah

Homily 12/6/2020
Epiphany Parish, Walpole, MA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Here we are, talking about baptism yet again. Quite honestly, baptism is one of my favorite things to talk about. 

Baptism comes from the Greek word, Baptizó and it means “a thorough change of condition accomplished through immersion.”

The scene described in today’s gospel isn’t actually that unique. John’s followers, being Jewish, were familiar with baptism, or ritual cleansing. Mikvah is a Hebrew word that means “collection, or pool, of waters.” Mikvah has been used for centuries for ritual cleansing before prayer, before marriage, after menses, and so on. A 2014 article from the Washington Post states, “In recent decades, the mikvah has enjoyed a revival among less observant Jews who see it as a way to mark transitions in their lives. “Open” mikvahs — those that welcome Jews for reasons not required by Jewish law — encourage people to immerse after a divorce, after chemotherapy, to celebrate a new job or to find closure after an abortion, among other reasons."

So, John wasn’t introducing something new in this ritual cleansing per se, in fact, he was imploring his followers to do something that they were already doing regularly. But what John was preaching was new. His Messianic message was to tell these followers that this time, this cleansing, this baptism was preparation for an entirely new beginning. In this story of John the Baptist we see a prophet bringing comfort to a people yearning for God to intervene. This evangelist was bringing hope through assurance of the arrival of the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And further, John was telling his followers to basically get their stuff together and repent in preparation for new life in Jesus Christ. 

So what does this mean for us? For modern Christians? What does this mean for this second week of Advent as we find ourselves still in the grip of this pandemic, wandering in our own wilderness? We’re still in lockdown, some of us are even quarantined. Each of us likely knows someone who has or has had the virus. And some of us know someone who has died from it. How do we, in the midst of this turmoil, pause to remember the Holy One who came to be with us? How do we glimpse the hope that John proclaimed and how do we prepare for the arrival of this one whom John the Evangelist, the Baptizer, the Prophet, so greatly revered? How might we cleanse ourselves to invite the incarnation?

The season of Advent for Episcopalians also marks the start of a new year. It might still be 2020, but at least in the church we’re moving on! This new liturgical year offers us an opportunity to reset, reevaluate, and repent. To clear the pathway between ourselves and Jesus. To create a way for God to enter into our lives. I encourage each of us to strip away the things that come between us and the coming of Jesus. Send that kind letter you’ve been meaning to write. Clean out that one closet where stuff piles up week after week. Set up a video chat with someone you haven’t laid eyes on in a while. Call your loved ones. I desperately need to clean out my car that’s been decorated by my toddler. Between straw wrappers, cheerios, and Pepperidge farm goldfish, I’ve managed to lose my sense of self, I think. And above all, continue to pray. The wilderness, whether literal or metaphorical, represents the fringe of society and the place where one can encounter God. This wilderness can be our opportunity for transformation if we clear pathways for Christ to enter in. Even in these days there are ways to find hope and renewal, and opportunities for us to help others find hope too.

I’d like to share this poem with you written by one of my favorite writers, Mary Oliver:

Making the House Ready for the Lord

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice — it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances — but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

Amen. 

 


© Margaret Lias 2020