Advent offers a counterbalance to our frantic lives. It invites us to a darkening, quiet, reflective time. It asks us to ponder with Mary the order of a disordered world. With her we wonder why God picked that time and place to reach down and give birth to a new way of being? Can we birth that hope again, this season, in a world gone mad with consumption? Can we take one step away from the glitzy enticements of the season? If you are reading this, it is a certainty that you have already taken many steps away from the things of this world. Can we all go just a little deeper, no matter where we are in our advocacy? Can we? Somewhere deep inside us there is a voice that says “please”, please put aside the frenzy. Listen to the urging of that voice! Name one thing that will take you deeper into the season, and then go there.
We invite you to take a breath and feel the peace that the Prince of Peace wants each of us to have in honor of his coming. Six times you will be blessed with an advent reflection that we hope will take you deeper. Let us journey together to Bethlehem.
Matthew 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15 But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
Matthew 11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit and Fire? I imagine that most of you who are reading this have been baptized with water, but have you been baptized "with the Holy Spirit and fire?" John the Baptist announces the coming of a powerful one who will baptize "with the Holy Spirit and fire." And this one – proclaims John – will burn up that which is "chaff" with "unquenchable fire."
Matthew of course tells us that the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire is Jesus. John it seems is not so sure. John, who has been imprisoned by King Herod, hears about the strange ways of Jesus. Jesus has been opening the eyes of the blind, healing the sick, and raising the dead. And Jesus has been teaching things like this, "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth," and this, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." John hears about these strange doings and teachings, and sends a disciple to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" In other words – Jesus, are you the Messiah or not? In other words, John doesn't think that rescuing the wounded and teaching love of enemy are Messiah-worthy doings and teachings. You can understand why John might not be interested in "loving his enemies," enemies like King Herod, and why John might be more interested in seeing King Herod become some of that burning chaff.
Jesus it appears is heading in a different direction than John had anticipated. Jesus, who has himself been baptized with water, fire, and the Holy Spirit, is being propelled by those baptisms into a God worshiping, people and earth rescuing, life. Those baptisms and that life will lead Jesus inevitably, inexorably to the cross. It appears that God's judgment (surely God's judgment is what John envisions in the baptism with fire) it appears that God's judgment may not look so much like a man of violence burned up as chaff, but maybe God's judgment looks more a man of peace hanging on a cross. Jesus chose to live a life of self-giving love in confrontation with those who practiced self-serving violence and greed. It was a life that took him to a judgment on a cross. And was it not a life and death with which God was well pleased and honored with resurrection?
I don't know about you, but I have to confess – My natural inclination is to go with John the Baptist. Burning the chaff sounds like a good idea to me.
And as a candidate for chaff – How about the fossil fuel industry and their efforts to keep us on a path that may well lead to catastrophic consequences for the earth and its people? Although once that fire got going where would it stop? What would the industry be without customers? I'm beginning to feel a little warm. Maybe the way of Jesus has some merit – seeking to convert rather than destroy. Divestment might be a strategy Jesus would use. For one who has definitely been baptized with water, and so possibly also with the Holy Spirit and fire, maybe this Advent season would be a good time to begin working to put that fossil fuel divestment overture before my Presbytery.
Jesus you have baptized us with water, the Holy Spirit, and fire so that we can walk in the way of the cross confronting violence and greed with the power of self-giving love. Help me so to walk as I serve God by caring for the earth and its people. Amen.
This week's reflection was written by Dana Eglinton, the pastor of Jacksonville Presbyterian Church, in Springfield, New Jersey, who serves on the PEC steering committee as the Northeast Regional Representative.