Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2016
We began the Advent Season last weekend with a set of Readings that, when proclaimed against the backdrop of the current state of world affairs, raised the need for humankind to start listening…and empathizing with one another. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the target of an especially harsh greeting by John the Baptist, directed towards “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” who were coming to him for baptism. The negative spotlight he directed at them would be enough to make any self–respecting person turn around and go back to where they came from. This might be the exact reason why John called them A brood of vipers, trying to escape the wrath of God.
By way of background, both were sects of Judaism that were not unlike contemporary political parties. Both had a “vision” as to how things should operate and pushed their agendas. The Sadducees were the “conservatives.” They opposed change in the religious/political order. This is understandable in that they were the “1%.” They distinguished themselves, in particular, by rejecting the resurrection of the dead. Of course, by denying an afterlife, this group of privileged and powerful aristocrats relieved themselves of the fear of punishment for their sins. Unburdened by a concern for judgment day, they basically could live the good life without thought of consequences.
By contrast, the Pharisees were not from the “priestly class.” Today, we would call them “laity.” Since they were much more open-minded than the folks on the other side of the aisle, they were given both to study and to the possibility of change. Still, like their counterparts, they suffered the scorn of The Baptist as well as Jesus. The Lord often greeted members of both sects with the words…Woe to you hypocrites!
For one thing, both made their living off of the Temple economy. In short, their lifestyles were supported by the contributions of the faithful…often “the widow’s mite.” Moreover, in the Gospel, reports of their various interactions with Jesus, it does not seem that they were interested in listening to, or empathizing with, either Him or any of the poor, downtrodden, marginalized common folk that gathered around Him. Accordingly, when they presented themselves for John’s baptism by water, he challenged their motives. Were they mingling with truly repentant sinners simply for the publicity? Were they sincerely seeking forgiveness of their sins? Did they come with the intention of changing their ways? Or would they submit to the ritual bath and then simply turn around and go back to where they came from?
Regardless of their intentions, they serve a purpose. They help us to understand the distinction between John’s ritual bath and Jesus’s Baptism with Fire and the Holy Spirit. If they truly understood what The Lord’s Baptism was all about, regardless of how good the publicity might be, it is doubtful that they would submit.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit means dying to one’s self and rising again with Christ to a new life in the Spirit. It is literally a spiritual re-birth. As a “new creation,” those Baptized in the Spirit are called to walk as children of the Light…the Light of Christ, that is.
So then, as we begin the second week of this Advent Season, it might be good to ask ourselves whether we truly understand what Baptism by Fire and the Holy Spirit is all about. Would we willingly make a conscious choice to “put on Christ” and walk “The Way” if we fully understood that it involves personal sacrifice? Would we come to the Living Waters if we comprehended the fact that baptism is a “call to action”? Would we want to have our babies baptized if we sincerely appreciated that Christian disciples are called to be agents of change…committed to take the action necessary to build the Kingdom of God according to the plans laid out in the Gospel?
At first glance, this examination of conscience might seem more appropriate to the penitential season of Lent than the joyful season of Advent. But, in fact, those Baptized in Christ are called to share the mission and ministry of the brilliant Advent figure…John the Baptist!
We are called to PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD! We do this by living out our baptism…Baptism by Fire and The Holy Spirit!