"[Peter and John] went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." - Acts 8:14-17
What was separated in time for the people in today's passage is usually smooshed together in baptisms these days. Right after the part with the water, whoever is doing the baptism will place her hand on the head of the one being baptized and say something like, "The Holy Spirit be upon you, child of God, Disciple of Christ, member of Christ's church."
This passage is part of the reason for that extra blessing there at the end. There are others: In the Gospels, John baptizes with water but promises that another will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Earlier in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit comes to the people like a mighty wind. Flames appear above their heads and they start to speak in all the languages of the known world.
Baptism with water and in the names of God is good. It was good enough for Jesus to undergo, after all. The cleansing, the welcoming, the fresh start: these are gifts beyond price that God hands out in baptism. But God knows what it is to live in this world--the challenges, the dangers, the temptations, the opportunities--and so God doesn't stop there, won't let the newly baptized away from the font until just one gift more is given: power.
The baptizer calls down the power of the Holy Spirit, and God obliges. The Comforter, the Advocate, the Inspirer, the Strengthener is sent, bestowed, breathed in. And if tongues of flame don't erupt over heads and babies don't start speaking in tongues, the gift is no less magnificent: God's own spirit, alive inside us, forever.
For the gift and the power of your Holy Spirit, O Lord, thank you. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.