Christmas & Water: Meaning Found in Christianity and Other Faiths
As we dive deep into another Christmas season, family gatherings and gift-hunting top the minds of many across our globe. While we might lose our heads at times waiting for the increased traffic near the mall to slowly inch toward Aunt Ginny's Christmas party, the holiday season brings with it an opportunity to renew ourselves and practice the very joy the season calls for.
Water doesn't immediately come to mind when the holliest, jolliest Christmas-lovers bring the ugly sweaters to work to celebrate, but water has long played a role in religions throughout cultures. Whether used for symbolic or practical purposes, water remains a staple of stories and rituals.
Jesus, whose birth we celebrate on December 25, built his ministry on the use of parables. The Nazorean often used water and it's importance to humanity in his symbolism. In John chapter four, Jesus sits at a well, you know, the kind that holds -- gasp! -- water. He asks a Samaritan woman for a drink of -- double gasp! -- water.
When the woman balks at Jesus because Jews were not known for being the best of friends with Samaritans, Jesus takes the opportunity to provide one of his famous parables:
"Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?
12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Just a few chapters later in John, we observe Jesus again with the use of water as a symbol in a parable when he attends the Festival of Tabernacles. Jesus began teaching halfway through the festival, which stirred up debate of His true identity -- whether He was who He said He was.
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.
38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
We could continue our exclusive tour of Jesus' use of water throughout the Bible, but we can observe water in many ways through other practices in different religions as well. Nearly all major religions use water for cleansing rituals and purposes. Of course Jesus Himself was baptized in the River Jordan.
In the Jewish faith, Rabbi Lawrence Troster writes for GreenFaith Water Shield, "Origin of life. Agent of cleansing, and purification. Metaphor for God. Life-source and final promise. Concernfor water, rooted in the very real ecology of the Land of Israel, created a rich vocabulary in which Judaism expressed major theological and ethical ideas."
Troster continues, "A more recent water ritual is Tashlikh, the earliest reference to which comes from the early 15th century. The text of Micah 7:18-20, which contains the phrase 'And You will hurl (Hebrew: ve-tashlikh) all our sins into the depths of the sea,' is recited near a body of water on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah as a symbolic casting away of transgressions. Here again, water is an agent of purification and rebirth, renewing us for the New Year."
Perhaps more directly related to the physical, rather than spiritual, side of the human body, the Hinduism faith practices Water Therapy: "Water Therapy, both external and internal, has been practised for centuries to heal the sick. Usha Kaala Chikitsa is Sanskrit for water therapy. According to this ancient system, 1.5 litres of water should be consumed each morning on an empty stomach, as well as throughout the day. Water Therapy is considered to be a material way of taking an 'internal bath.'"