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Key words and phrases: Repent, Prepare the way of the Lord, thrown into the fire, baptizing … for repentance, one who is coming, baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire
To the point: John the Baptist prepared “the way of the Lord” by calling the people to repentance so they would not be “thrown into the fire” of “the coming wrath.” John announced impending judgment and offered a baptism of repentance. John also announced one to come who would enact that judgment and bring a baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire. The fire of judgment will destroy those who are fruitless; the fire of the Spirit will help the faithful bear good fruit. Advent is, in the end, about jumping into the fire.
To the First Reading: During Advent the readings from Isaiah are prophecies of the Messiah. Thus, the “sprout from the stump of Jesse” is the Christ. The “spirit of the Lord” that rested upon Jesus bringing him wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord is the same Spirit we are given at baptism bringing us the same gifts enabling us to be faithful and fruitful.
To Experience: The misuse of fire, arson, is considered a very heinous crime because it destroys more than property; it is an invasion of personal space. In this gospel John refers to fire as a destructive force but also as a gift that brings personal worth—new Life.