Today’s Lectionary Reading
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Romans 6:3-5, NRSV
The sea had a very different connotation to the authors of the Scriptures than they do for us today. For them, the sea was chaos, a powerful disordered force that could not be controlled by man. Travellers and merchants feared its perils, as shown through the risk of shipwreck in the stories of Jonah (Jonah 1) and Paul (Acts 27). It was the chaos from which the heavens and the earth were made (Genesis 1:2), and the body that lay between the Israelites and freedom and ultimately consumed the pursuing Egyptians after God’s marvellous provision. The metaphor of the “raging” or “violent” seas is prevalent throughout the Scriptures, and even becomes a symbol for violent people (Isaiah 17:12-13).
In the Old Testament passages today we get a sense of this aspect of the seas, as something from which God must save us from. In Genesis 8, God “remembered” Noah and all the animals, and made “a wind” (the same Hebrew word ruach as the word for “Spirit”) to make the waters “subside”, “close” the windows of heaven, and “restrain” the rain (8:1-3, NRSV). Psalm 124 says, “if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters” (124:2-5).
Indeed, we see the need in all of our lives for a Savior, to save us not only from the anger of the enemy, but also from our own sinful selves. The chaos and disorder that was outside Eden at the beginning through the sin of Adam was allowed to have reign over mankind, and death and judgment became our fate. The sin of man in Noah’s day had grown to such proportions that God decided to blot out humanity, except for Noah, from the earth, and to begin a new race with him (Genesis 6). Psalm 124 might as well have been Noah’s song of praise: without the LORD, he would have perished, not only at the hands of his enemies but also in the storm, the righteous judgment that even he deserved. With him and the Psalmist we say, “[o]ur help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:6).
Advent is the time where we prepare ourselves for the season in which we remember the coming of the Lord Jesus, through whom all things were created (John 1:3) and is the Savior of the world (I John 4:14). In this season, we humble ourselves and remember that our need for the Savior of the world to still the storms of this earth (Mark 4:39) and deliver us from the wrath, both passive and active, that results from our sin.
But in Christ, we also see another side of symbolism of the seas. The sea also was a source of life, providing sustenance for an abundance of creation, and even many of Christ’s followers were fishermen, whose profession was to draw this sustenance from the treacherous seas. Water more generally has throughout the Scriptures been a symbol of rebirth, from Noah’s rising out of the waters to become a new Adam in Genesis 8 to the sprinkling of water symbolizing God’s giving Israel a new heart and spirit in Ezekiel 37. In Romans we see how the institution of baptism as a central Christian sacrament has added further meaning onto water. We are “baptized into his death”, to symbolize that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”, and in anticipation of our being “united with him a resurrection like his”. Through the waters of baptism, we pass through the waters, and symbolically die – and from it we are reborn into a new, different kind of life. Through the waters of baptism, we identify with the new Adam, the glorious Christ, archetyped by Noah, who saved his people from the judgment for sin.
And now at Advent we await a second coming – the time when Christ will come again and remake the heavens and the earth anew. For the forces of evil, this second coming will again be terrifying – II Peter 3 says that “the world of that time [in Noah’s day] was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word [of God] the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless” (3:5-7). But we who have died with him, symbolized by baptism, will no longer need to fear this second death, for he is our Savior who carries us through the flood. Instead, that day will mark for us the consummation of our second life, when we receive our new resurrection bodies. On that day, we will no longer even need to fear the sea, and the chaos it symbolizes – ultimately there will be no more sea in the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21:1). Instead, the waters that flow there is “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).
Advent is a memorial to not only his first coming, but an anticipatory celebration of his second. At Advent, we remember that “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”, and long for the day when we will be raised again in glorious resurrection bodies like Christ’s. We remember that we too can walk in newness of life, as radically different from our old lives of sin as Jesus’s resurrected glory exceeded the darkness of his death. In this season of Advent, brothers and sisters, let us rest in the knowledge of our Lord’s power over all chaos and sin, and live with hope, seeking to become like him in all that we do, knowing he will one day bring us safely out of the waters again into a new life in the new heavens and the new earth.
Allen Lai ’20 is a Chemistry and Physics concentrator in Quincy House.