Tomorrow is my 31st birthday, and instead of any gifts or Facebook Wall well-wishes, I’m asking people to give $31 on my campaign page at Charity: Water to give access to clean water to those in developing country.
But it is also Advent and Christmas season, giving an even deeper and fuller reason to give, especially if you would call yourself a Christian.
Yes, as Christians we ought to care about the pain and suffering of the world no matter what chapter and verse we can cite on a particular issue. But water, however, is uniquely theological and full of meaning.
A Theology of Water & Advent
Water is an essential and mystical part of the Christian story and message, giving us unique motivations and resources for addressing the issue of clean water. The Israel story begins with God creating the world out of the murky depths. The Israelite people are set free from bondage to a prince of death and find their redemption by passing through a Red Sea, which would have held certain death and return to bondage; they enter the Promised Land in a similar fashion. God promises to sprinkle clean his people with the waters of redemption. It is by more than one water well that Patriarchs find their wives and Christ finds a woman in need of redemption. It is in the world to come that the Tree of Life is seen once more, and a River of Life flows from its roots offering life and salvation to all who drink.
Water is essential to the story of Christianity. This Advent and Christmas we celebrate a God having come among us in human flesh. This coming together of the material and the divine becomes real in Jesus. And because of the Incarnation, through the sacrament of Baptism, God–in a very real sense–communicates Himself to His people through, of all means, water.
From the opening chapters of our Scriptures, water is seen as major source of conflict and depth when untamed; but when handled by God, it becomes a source of life and redemption. Baptism “retells” the story of Creation, birthing a New Creation within us. In the waters of Baptism–perhaps the greatest place that God meets us–we find our Identity, his Covenant, and our Inclusion into the Family of God.
Christ & Water
Jesus first miracle was turning water into wine. But this wasn’t some magic trick. Every miracle of Jesus was an act of justice–a “sign” pointing to the world to come when all things had been made right. In God’s Kingdom, people were not meant to be blind or deaf or dead, so Jesus’ miracles demonstrate power over those things by giving us a “coming attraction” of that world to come.
But what of the water and wine? The wedding had run out of wine. They were experiencing a lack, a loss, of joy and the “life-force” of the wedding feast. In God’s Kingdom, our feasting with him will have no lack of joy, community, nor life. And so Jesus uses water as the means by which to meet the sense of loss and sadness in others.
Jesus walks on the stormy waters, showing that water is meant to serve us, not master us. The storms do not get the final say. Water, whether stormy or undrinkable, is meant to give us life, not herald death.
Jesus, in his last act with his followers, washes their feet in his greatest act of humility before the Cross. In John’s Gospel, this event is essentially connected to the Lord’s Supper, thereby connecting the cleansing work of water to the Church’s other major sacrament. Before Jesus breaks his body and sheds his blood, he bathes his people with clean water. Water becomes an invitation to security, refreshing, and intimacy.
Over and over again, the theme is clear: Water, on its own, leads to death. Water, tamed and serving the good of humanity in the hands of God and his people, though, leads to life, wholeness, and community.
Christians & Water
Think of it. Creation, miracles, salvation, service, baptism, cleansing. Of all the substances God could have chosen to make Himself present in and through which to visibly identify His people, He chose water. Water becomes set apart for the unique work of bringing community, wholeness, covenant, joy, service, and life to the world. It is elemental in Creation, and it is elemental in the Divine.
Christians should care about water. As the visible representations of the hands, feet, and mouth of God, the Church has a powerful opportunity and responsibility to communicate the presence of Christ by subduing the chaos brought about by untamed and unsubdued waters and thereby bring redemption, wholeness, and healing to entire communities, nations, and regional economies.
When Jesus came and died, he died as the culmination of the history of the Israelite people–but not just that. Within the body of Jesus was the entire history of the cosmos. When he died and was raised, he did not just bring a resurrected humanity, but a resurrected creation as well. And because of that, Christians were given the task of spreading this resurrection and redemption even to the natural world around them.
We have failed much in this, but may I suggest that caring immensely about clean water in the world is a way that we may return to our initial call to subdue that which is out of order in this world?