This Sunday, the Church celebrates the Baptism of Christ – and the Gospel reading is from Luke 3 (verses 15-17 and 21-22)
A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’
The Holy Spirit is often pictured as fire – not least when he descends upon the disciples at Pentecost.
What happens when we are baptised ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’? One thing we can be sure of – a life which is open to the Spirit, open to his ‘fire’, will never be shallow. It is to both patience and passion that the Gospel summons us.
In the early years of the church, many Christians felt called to live as monks in the desert – imitating the ministry of John the Baptist and also Jesus’ time in the wilderness. They went to wait, to clear their hearts and minds of distractions.
Their calling needed patience – but, as their writings show, patience alone was not enough:
A young monk approached Father Anthony: “I have fasted and prayed and studied, as you have taught me. What else should I do?” And Father Anthony replied, “Why don’t you become all fire?” (From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers)
It’s a good question each for us to ask ourselves at the start of the year – “Why don’t you become all fire?” What would it mean to move to a new level, of depth and passion, in my discipleship in 2013? How can I become more committed in my following of Jesus, without simply ‘burning myself out’?
We need to make sure we don’t confuse more commitment with more running around. The fire needs to be from God, not from our own resources, if it is to go on blazing.
And if there are new things which God is calling you to do, are there also old things you need to stop doing – space you need to clear in your life, distractions to remove, in order to focus on this vocation?
Pray for the staff at the Church Urban Fund and the Contextual Theology Centre as they complete work on two exciting new Lent Courses for 2013. Pray that these may help churches to be clearer about God’s calling for them in the year ahead – and help them to draw on his resources, not simply their own, in working for social transformation.