Our gospel this Sunday once more highlights the role and ministry of John the Baptist in preparing the people of Israel for the coming of Jesus. Whether the people’s going out to the Jordan to see John was motivated by curiosity or faith, many of the people experienced conversion with a desire to live more in order with God’s will. Thus, we hear groups of tax collectors and soldiersasking what they should do to live more in accord with God’s will. All of usare asked to seek out and follow the general will of God for everyone. Yet eachperson, given his or her specific life situation, will have some specificaspects of God’s will to which he or she must be particularly attentive. Whatparticular things would John point out for you, were you to be there asking aswere those tax collectors and soldiers?
John makes clear that he is not the Messiah. He is the messenger announcing the imminent coming of the Messiah who will baptize with the “Holy Spirit and fire”. While we relate that image specifically to the Pentecost event, the significance of the Holy Spirit and fire here is more generic. Fire is a symbol of purification or refining, representing the need for repentance and reform. Accepting the call to reform, the crowd has been asking John for clarification of specifically how to follow God’s will. Divine inspiration and guidance is the work of the Holy Spirit. In our Advent time of preparation, may we take that to heart, accepting the call to reform, orient our lives to God’s will more perfectly, and present ourselves as more perfect offerings in thanks to Jesus at his coming.