But John intervened: “I’m baptising you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned”. (Luke 3: 16 – 17)
It isn’t what John the Baptist meant, but the term “baptism of fire” came into military parlance to refer to a soldier’s first time in battle and later to anyone who is tested in a new role.
My friend Stephen dropped the phrase in conversation recently while talking about his own war stories. He is a disabled veteran who struggles mightily with pain from injuries sustained while serving hundreds of missions in mostly Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s in his 30s, a single dad raising a young daughter on his own, but despite his challenges, he manages to volunteer in the community, which is how I know him. He and I often talk about political issues and I asked him about his views on the fall of Afghanistan. He’s usually very opinionated, but he just shook his head and he eyes welled up with tears. I wanted to hug him, but as COVID-careful as he is because of his fragile health, I didn’t. “What should I do?” I thought. I don’t know if it was the right thing, but I nodded and held him in spirit with my silent attention and my own watery eyes and hopes that could quench a tiny bit of what he felt.