Third Sunday of Advent 

By Ryan Browne

Dec 12 2021

John the Baptist continues to dominate the scene on the Third Sunday of Advent. Today he prophesies that the one who is coming will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.

The Gospel today (Luke 3:10-18) shows us another discourse between John the Baptist and his followers. Once again, he is the voice in the wilderness pointing the way to Jesus the Saviour. It’s not about him and his baptism of. What counts, is the baptism Christ will inaugurate: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”.

This brings to mind another Gospel passage: Ignem veni mittere in terram. “I have come to cast fire upon the earth” (Lk 12:49).

These words are masterfully depicted in Durante Alberti’s Martyrs painting at the Venerable English College in Rome. It powerfully depicts the redemptive power of Christ’s crucifixion. The centre-piece of the crucified Christ held up by the Father is striking. The blood of Jesus pours forth from his hands and side onto the earth below, from which flames burst forth.

What are these flames baptising, purging, cleansing? We Christians have been baptised with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we can also ask, who are these flames? We are these flames! They are our Christian communities aflame! We are the flames God has ignited on earth to bring light to the nations – hope to a world that desperately cries out for joyful hope. Without joyful hope, our lives become dull, dry, even miserable. God desires us to be happy! He wants us to be joyful!

This is the fire today’s Gospel is speaking of. The fire set by Christ’s burning love, the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of His disciples. This is the only fire that touches the coldness of our human hearts and transform us.

Fire is not solitary. Its very nature is to spread and engulf everything in its path. So, when the fire of faith touches our hearts, we must also have this nature – the deep desire to bring God’s love to the world. It is our responsibility to feed the fire.

How can we let this fire irrupt in our daily lives?

Through authentic joy. The liturgy today draws our attention to this: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!” (citation) God has given us the fire of faith to spread throughout the world. The greatest gift we have to aid us in this mission is joy —  not simply laughing and joking – these can be external masks of joy as well as the fruits of our joy. But they are not the fullness of joy the real sense of joy. An internal disposition that looks at the other and sees them as gift. The ability to smile at the other, even though we may be facing difficulties. A joy that is characterised by sacrifice and service. This is authentic joy.

In today’s society there are many who bear the personal pain and suffering of others. There are many who suffer the challenges and pains of depression, isolation and loneliness. Perhaps you can reach out to someone like this. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist explains how: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none.”

During Advent we may get caught up with the obsession of buying material gifts in preparation for Christmas Day. These can be physical expressions of our love for someone. But, how might we go deeper? How might we bring joy through our personal encounters with other people this Advent?

Joy is infectious. It is the gift God gives us to spread the flames of faith. It is through an authentic joy that we can give worthy praise to God in our lives this Advent. In genuine joy we become more and more like God.

Ryan Browne, from Bournemouth, England, is a seminarian studying at the Venerable English College in Rome, in his first year of theology. – Vatican News