When John the Baptist dipped people into the Jordan River, he was introducing something into their lives something that was both invisible and latent. The kingdom of God is like the wind, we can see evidence of it and know it to be mysterious in its comings and goings and power, but we can’t see it with our eyes or turn it on and off like electronic devices we love. It is other-worldly in its uncontrollable and unpredictable ways. Baptism was a symbolic act saying that the person of faith would rather realign their life around this mysterious, invisible, and uncontrollable thing, than continue on in sin towards the more obvious and visible reality of death.
Isaiah tells us that God’s Messiah will be filled with these invisible things: a spirit of wisdom, sensitive understanding, and indisputable knowledge. The fake news and shams of our world will fall away. For, “He will not decide by what his eyes see or his ears hear” (Isaiah 11:3) This coming Messiah and God’s kingdom are also Latent. To be latent is to be hidden. Awaiting certain developments before being reveals.
Back in the days of film, I was very aware of what it meant to say that something was latent. I would take a series of twenty-four pictures in my camera, then carefully wind the film back into its cassette. Perhaps that night, or a week later, I’d go down to the dark room and process the film. In total darkness, I would carefully wind the film onto a spool in the developing tank. Setting the timer, I’d pour in the chemicals. Each little grain of silver-chloride that had been struck by three photons of light in my camera, fixed itself in place and formed a dark image. The other silver-chloride grains are washed away, down the drain. Only then could the film be held up to the light and the images seen.
It is possible for a roll of film to go a decade or two without being developed. During that time, the images are invisible. Any attempt to see what is on the film results in erasing the image. Only by carefully processing the film is the photographer’s art brought to light. Often things are hidden away until it is the right time for them to be revealed. A baby is hidden in womb until it is born. An idea is hidden in the mind until it is communicated. The infant Jesus hidden in Egypt until it is time for him to be revealed. John the Baptist, his own cousin, finds himself amazed on the day that he comprehends for the first time that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ), the son of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Even today, Jesus seems to be hidden. Isaiah speaks for him, using the language of latent power. Jesus is like a sharp sword which will one day divide the world by the power of his word. Jesus is an arrow that will pierce the wayward heart of humanity. Jesus is the latent image of God, waiting to be developed in our lives. He is for the present unseen. He is right now misjudged.
In today’s digital world, where every instant photo is shared online and made cheap, Jesus requires a different mindset. That which is hidden is always more powerful than what we see. There is beauty. There is truth. There is the kingdom of God waiting to be developed. There is a new reality awaiting its birthing time.