Sunday, 19 January 2014

John the Baptist is baptising in the river Jordan with the baptism of repentance, a baptism in which people confessed and repented from their sins while being submerged in the waters. It must have been quite a busy place, as we can read in the Gospels that the whole of Judea and Jerusalem came out to John to hear him preach and to be baptised by him.

But as soon as Jesus entered the scene John the Baptist recognised Him among all the others. In a way everything, all the hustle and bustle, comes to a halt… a change happens, a move in the air. It is not the first time Jesus has this effect on John, as he leapt in the womb of Elisabeth when Mary came to visit her cousin before his birth, and now again John is caught by the presence of Jesus. John’s ministry was the start of the proclamation of the Gospel, the call to repentance, but this is not the end but only to prepare the way of the Lord. Indeed not only is John stopped in his tracks at the sight of Jesus, in a way everything stops in its tracks. This is the effect that the encounter with Jesus has. It marks the beginning of a new time, as there is a new start, for John there at the river Jordan, but also for us.

Confession and repentance of our sins, while necessary to be open to Gods grace, are only the beginning. It is as it were the prologue of the story of God and his people. But God want to give us so much more, He wants to give himself to us, with unity to us, and to become our best friend. It is appropriate that repentance was preached first. Saint Paul teaches that union with God, the participation in God though grace, is not compatible with a life in serious sin. Sin can prevent and destroy our communion with God. So repentance of our sins is necessary in order to have a true communion with God into our lives. However, the next step is to recognise Jesus as John did, and to ask Him to ‘baptise’ us, not with the baptism of repentance, but with the Holy Spirit.

Maybe like running a race, it is putting on the gear and get ready. Even if the trainer can be hard on the team, it is not because the trainer wants to inflict difficulty but wants to prepare the team for the event to come. While many people think the Church is only about sin, or interested in sin, dealing with sin is only the beginning of the journey we are invited to start. It is, as it were, only the first step before we can start the real journey. Sadly, however, maybe not that many people actually turn up at the start line, and are already turned away before anything exciting has happened, let alone finishing the race and win the price.

In order to be able to life our lives to the full Jesus wants to give us the Holy Spirit. It is probably the most recognisable form of grace, and the Holy Spirit can enrich our lives and turn it around. The Holy Spirit invigorates us, and helps us to participate in the fullness of life which is not possible in any other way. Jesus baptises in the Holy Spirit, He wants to give us the Spirit so we too can be transformed and be taken into communion with God.

This is a concept maybe not appreciated that much in contemporary society, but a reality nevertheless which is there for us to receive. A free gift given by God, but a gift which like any gift needs to be accepted, while God is eager to give it to us.

Jesus is saying to each of us who come to Him, “come and see”. To open our hearts, and to discover the reality that is there. Come to the house of the master, join in His happiness, and take part in the banquet. To put on the gear and go to the start line and not hang around indecisive and turn away.
I do realise that the image of the race might put some people off, and encourage others. Personally I think running can be enjoyable while difficult. However it always leaves me refreshed afterwards, and so it the experience of our faith once we live it out. Jesus wants to be close to us and console us deep down when needed, to help us and give strength when we struggle, to give us the deep abiding joy, fulfilment and peace that nothing else can give. The only thing we have to do is to accept who Jesus is and to ask Him to help us “to come and see”.

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