The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
December 12th, 2021 – Third Sunday of Advent - Luke 3:10-18
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When I was a kid, I loved fires. Each fall our family would rake piles of leaves and set them afire along the front curb of our street. (This was before people even thought of air pollution.) There were also vacant lots scattered around our neighborhood, and as the grass and brush dried after summer, small fires were often started by mischievous boys as a way to cause some local excitement. I must admit to participating in these pranks. One of the stupid thing I did back then was start a fire in a pile of old cardboard boxes in our family’s basement. Fires fascinated me and they still do. We have a small gas fireplace in our home and hardly a day passes when I don’t sit before it, fascinated by the dancing flames.
I also confess to a strong interest in cosmology, the study of the universe. In 2017 I was overwhelmed by witnessing first-hand a total eclipse of the sun that swept across the United States. The path of totality was a mere 150 miles south of our current home. The fiery sun was temporarily blocked from view by our moon for a little over two minutes. To me it felt like an instant and a step into eternity, all at the same time.
All these experiences are factored into how we might interpret today’s gospel where the baptism of Jesus is contrasted to the baptism of John the Baptist. John, himself, described the baptism brought by Jesus as the work of God’s Holy Spirit. And this baptism was accompanied by fire. Why was this baptism described in that way? Why is it connected with fire? There are likely many explanations, but here’s one I find helpful.
On my study wall hangs a picture given to me years ago by one of my students with a striking photograph of a sunrise accompanied by words drawn from the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, revered Jesuit priest and scientist. It reads, “Someday, after mastering the waves, the tides and gravity – we shall harness for God the energies of love and then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.”
Baptism, fire and love. What a gift from God! Jesus came not only to offer us eternal life, but to teach us the most potent source of life-giving energy here on earth, namely the energy that is released in each act of genuine love. Such love combines the inseparable love of God and love of neighbor. God’s Spirit and presence enters creation whenever we truly love others. Thus, we can think of Advent as the great season of love, a message that is also at the heart of celebrating Christmas.
©David M. Thomas, PhD