Reflection on the Third Sunday of Advent
Today, on this third Sunday of Advent, we are invited to rejoice! When I was a novice, our multi-talented Sister Luke taught us how to do calligraphy, and one of my favorite quotes to work on was from Dom Marmion which said, “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us!” I still like to think of Joy as an echo bouncing back to me from the wonder and beauty of God and all that God has created.
The star of today’s Gospel reading is John the Baptist, who would certainly have felt a thrill of joy as he hurried in from the desert to help jump start the ministry of Jesus. His enthusiasm was so contagious that even tax collectors got in line to find out what they had to do to get into this new kingdom which John said was at hand. Although the baptism he performed and the specific directions to specific groups were nothing new, John made it very clear that he was introducing someone who would be doing something more. Something entirely new. Pointing to Jesus he said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The word “fire” grabbed my attention. When I taught seventh grade science I learned that combustible matter can combine with oxygen and ignite to produce fire. Slow oxidation is called rust; rapid oxidation is called fire. I can still hear Sister Martha telling us novices, “Wear out! Don’t rust out! “ Rust eventually renders its host powerless so that it crumbles into dust. Fire produces heat, light and energy and makes an immediate and lasting difference! And so, I ask myself, “Am I rusting or burning?”
If I could have gotten into line in front of John, he would undoubtedly have said to me what he said to himself: “He must increase — you must decrease! “ He also gives me clear instructions about how to ignite the fire to facilitate the process of my decreasing so that Christ can increase — the threshing floor! I used to look at the threshing floor as judgment day and the winnowing fan as a very effective implement for consigning souls to heaven or hell, which was not very comforting. Now I see the threshing floor as a practical venue for encountering the Holy Spirit and fire each and every day. On the stage of authenticity, truth and surrender, with rigorously honest self-examination, I can recognize and let go of ego-centered thoughts and actions and choose to embrace Christ-centered thoughts and actions.
One way to do this could be the practice of the 10th step of Alcoholics Anonymous, which proposes a daily inventory as a sort of winnowing fan to review my words, actions and attitudes of the past 24 hours. It suggests that the focus of my observation be on resentment, dishonesty, self-pity and fear. The presence of these signal the absence of love, honesty, gratitude and trust. The persistent effort to let go of the former and adopt the latter can bring about an effective and lasting metanoia. Once again, am I rusting or burning? It’s all about change!
Perhaps Teilhard was looking forward to the day when we as the human family will live in the universal and constant experience of the heat and light of direct encounter with the Holy Spirit when he wrote, “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
I would like to close with the words of the second reading for today which describe this world of bright and shining joy marked by the presence of love, honesty, trust and gratitude: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again. Rejoice: Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Amen. Alleluia.