Our Gospel reading is in three parts, representing John the Baptist, the crowd, and Jesus. Of John the Baptist, our Gospel speaks, “I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Jesus will later say of John the Baptist, “Among those born of women, no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” There is great humility here.
Of the crowd, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” “Spirit” is Latin for breath. In the Aramaic, “Fire,” and “Man,” are the same word. Aramaic has two words for “Man,” as does German. In German the two words are, “Der Mann,” and “Der Mensch.” In Aramaic, “Adam,” and “Ish,” “Adam” is any man. “Der Mensch,” and “Ish,” are a different story. A Mensch is more than a man. He is a man who follows God’s will. Our readings are about baptism in the Dedicated Breath, this Holy Spirit.
The third part of our Gospel is about Jesus setting the example. The man of fire with the Holy Spirit, is “Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” He sees in everyone, no matter how big, or how small, how like us, or how not like us, how repulsive in our view, or how appealing, a piece of himself. Of Jesus first, but also of us, our first reading says, “Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth…” To you, Isaiah speaks. The primary reference is Jesus, but Jesus is first example to us. “I, the NAME, called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” Our Statue of Liberty takes up the same message as Isaiah and John the Baptist. Put aside the pomp and ceremony of idle rites. Rites are not idle when they teach, with their primary emphasis being upon actions. The coastlands await our teaching, the words of our New Colossus.
Of Brit, covenant, one expert writes it means, “circle, ring, chain, to cut a ring out/make a ring, to enter into the ring, and therefore a covenant.” Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud and Midrashic Literature, page 194 God sets us as a Brit, a ring, around the people. He sets the example of what we should be.
Our Gospel speaks of the Holy Spirit coming upon us in fire. The Holy Spirit then descends upon Jesus. St. Paul writes, “The concern of the flesh is death; the concern of the spirit is life and peace… you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you… those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God… The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified/doxology with him.” What is a doxology but speaking well of someone. When do people speak well of us? When we act like brothers and sisters, taking care of one another, being a light for the nations, opening the eyes of the blind, bringing prisoners from confinement, from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” There is no room here for a nation with 5% of the world’s population an 25% of those in prison.
When we fix this God will say of us as he says of Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”