Dear Friends in Christ,
Today’s Gospel contains the heart of John the Baptist’s preaching. His message of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Lord resonated with the crowds who flocked to see him. Just as it stirred the hearers to long for the coming Messiah, so it moves us to worship. Jesus said of John, ‘among those born of women there has risen no one greater’. The effect of John’s holiness on the crowds can be seen in the response even in hardened soldiers and cunning tax-collectors. We might think that John had cause to be humbly satisfied at the success of his mission – what more could be asked for than genuine repentance and newfound faith?
But John stressed that he was only the messenger sent ahead of the Messiah – his baptism in water was to be surpassed by a new baptism. John came to understand that the promised Messiah was at hand who would take away the sins of the world, the Son of God who would ‘baptise …with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Water has a purifying role in the Old Testament. The law imposed many ritual washings before worship, and the Pharisees baptised Gentile converts to symbolise the cleansing of their hearts and their joining to the people of Israel. John baptised people in the Jordan to symbolise their repentance, but he knew that something more than a symbol was needed to rescue humankind – they needed to be immersed in the Spirit of God.
Jesus has given the Holy Spirit. This gift from the Father empowers us to respond to our call and vocation to live our life in the Spirit. Once more we are able to know God’s love and to love God and others. We can press on each day in hope, knowing the Spirit will form the Character of Jesus within us.
Father God, we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes to live in us so that we can live a Spirit-filled life and be conformed to your likeness. May we be filled with hope so that, like John, we will prepare the way for Jesus by telling others the Good News of your amazing love and mercy.