12-6-19 - Water and Fire

(You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.)

John the Baptizer was absolutely clear about his mission: he was not the main attraction, but an advance man for a much bigger show. He attracted a lot of attention – ordinary people who wanted the spiritual experience he was offering, and authorities investigating whether or not he should concern them. But he stayed very focused on his mission:
"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.”

Water and fire – two elements that cannot dwell together, except in a Christian. John’s baptism was a way for people to enact repentance, to experience the water of cleansing. But the fire that Jesus brings, John said, is another force altogether, one that will do more than warm us:
“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."

Unquenchable fire. That doesn’t sound like something I want to be around. Fire scares me, unless it’s in a hearth or cooking something on a stove. The unquenchable fire is one image of eternal damnation.

But fire is also one of our symbols for the power of the Holy Spirit. Our life in Christ begins with water, the transforming water of baptism by which we are made one with Christ and members of God’s family. Then God’s life is released in us as we are baptized with the fire of the Holy Spirit. That’s where we get the power by which God works transformation through us. We need water and fire.

I once heard a story from someone who had visited Christians in Indonesia. He was at a prayer service that was about the most intense he’d ever witnessed. A woman was leading the prayer, and she was calling down the Spirit upon them, praying fervently, passionately, inviting God to make himself known in power, calling down Holy Spirit fire. This prayer went on for quite a while, and then suddenly the woman went quiet and a silence descended upon the group for three, four, five minutes. Then the woman spoke: “Fire is now,” she said. And they were all filled with heat, like they were burning, but it didn’t hurt. Manifestations of the Spirit began to be seen and heard, and many were healed. “Fire is now."

If we want to open ourselves to a deeper experience of God’s love and power, we don’t stop with water – we move on to fire. Are you willing to ask God for a greater filling of Holy Spirit? There may be parts of your life you don’t want to see scorched - can you offer God access anyway? Are they keeping you from expanding your capacity for God-life, or do they help you make a way?

Fire is now. What happens if you let it in?

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