December 17, 2017 — Third Sunday of Advent
The report that St. John the Baptist baptizes with water but there is one coming after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit appears multiple times in the Bible. Last week in our Gospel we heard the first six verses of the first chapter in the Gospel of Mark. It is worth noting that if we read the next two verses, we would hear, “After me is coming someone who is more powerful than me…I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
As we reflect on our readings on this Third Sunday of Advent we need to consider the fact that we, at least most of us, have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Our First Reading from the prophet Isaiah opens with “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” This is not just God speaking to us; it is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The word “Messiah” means, “anointed one.” The word “anoint” literally means to rub or sprinkle on; apply an ointment. Priests in the Old Testament were anointed for service to the Lord. The anointment, however, was only an outward sign; the real anointment involved what was going on inside of them.
Most of us are baptized Catholics. That means that we, too, have been anointed. The question we must ask ourselves during this holy season of Advent is “What is going on inside of us?” Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us, to influence us, to help us to be more holy and to be the disciples we are called to be? There is a reference in this reading from Isaiah to seeds and growth (“As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all nations.”) None of us can make anything really grow; only God can do that. However, we can provide the right environment for growth. Are we doing that during this Advent? Have we put our hearts and minds in the right environment for faith? It is not too late; it is never too late. We need to do that, and now.
Our Second Reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians contains one of the oft-quoted lines from Paul: “Pray without ceasing.” Part of placing ourselves in the proper environment is indeed to pray continually. That does not mean that we must always bow our heads, get on our knees, fold our hands, and look like we are praying, but it does mean that our very lives must be a prayer. Prayer is communication with God, and that is something we can do every minute of each day.
To pray we do not need to necessarily use our voices. We do nonetheless need to find time when we shut other things out, other distractions, and focus on God. It does not matter where we are or really what time it is. What does matter is that we are always prepared to pray. Another basic tenet of the idea of stewardship is that we are thankful. Our prayers should first and foremost be prayers of gratitude. We may not give thanks for everything, but we do need to give thanks in everything. Our lives need to be a constant flowing communication with God. That is part of putting ourselves in the environment to allow the Holy Spirit to flourish.
The Gospel Reading from St. John centers on the prophetic message of St. John the Baptist. In response to questions, John the Baptist declares, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’.” John the Baptist’s whole purpose was to point to Jesus. John the Baptist was there to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. That is where we are right now during this Advent, our time of preparation. Baptism implies the humble willingness to repent, to be cleansed, and to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. That, too, is what we should be doing now during Advent. It is time for us to pray, to be cleansed, and to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, not just as an infant at Christmas, but throughout our lives.