Fr. Kevin Holsapple, Advent Meditation

John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

They were cousins, you know: John Baptist and Jesus. They were close. They were close, and yet there is a great gulf between them! It is very, very important that you see the great distance between John and Jesus.

John was a prophet: a mighty prophet; call him the greatest of the prophets. Jesus said, there was no-one ever born greater than John the Baptist. And then He said, “Notwithstanding: he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mt 11:11). And that would also be the teaching of John.

John was not humble, in the outward sense. John shouted down great crowds. He said, “You snakes! What are you doing here?” (Mt 3:7) He shouted down kings and queens. They say King Herod trembled at the mention of John’s name. John was great, by any measure.

Understand the difference, between the great prophet, and the Christ. You cannot be a Christian until you know the difference.

It is common to say that Jesus was a great prophet: a teacher. Even unbelievers feign to tip their hats to Jesus the Teacher. Everybody pays Him that compliment.

It’s like calling my wife a mammal. After all, she is a mammal! I don’t call her a mammal. I’d better come up with a better description than that! You need to think of a higher title for Jesus than Teacher. Of course, He was a great teacher, but think of all the great teachers already in the world before Jesus: Moses… Isaiah… Buddha… Confucius… Socrates…

Let’s be bold, and plain: if you’ve got Socrates, who needs Jesus?

Jesus was far more than a teacher. The crowds did call Him Teacher: Rabbi. The disciples called Him Lord: Christ. Christ is not just a Teacher. Christ is the teaching.

St John’s Gospel says it this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

“…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5, 14).

Prophets come to us with a message from God. Prophets are important, to be sure, but we have prophets aplenty, in every religion. We didn’t really need another prophet. Jesus Christ did not come to be another prophet, giving the world yet one more message about God. Jesus came as God.

He is God – – the Divine Life – – manifest in a human life. God doesn’t come with a teaching. God comes with FIRE [see Ps 18:9-13]. Jesus came with FIRE. John said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus said, “I am come to send fire on the earth…” (Luke 12:49)

On Pentecost Sunday, the fire broke out, into the Church. Flames appeared, blazing above their heads. Peter stood up and read the prophecy of Joel: “and it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy… and I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath: blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke…” (Acts 2:17,19) The Church of God is a pillar of fire (see Ex 13:21).

Do not reduce the Gospel to a collection of wise teachings. Do not reduce it to politics, or morality. Life in Christ is not just “being a good person.” Forget that. People tell me, all the time, everywhere I go: “I think I’m a pretty good person.” Why do they say that? “I’m a good person.” What does that have to do with it? Are we in some kind of a competition?

Christian: The world had morality before Jesus. We had the Law of Moses! It was a perfect, revealed system of morality, and we had it before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Church was not gathered for morality. The Church was gathered to be fuel, for the FIRE. The Divine Life was manifested, in the Church. The Divine Life will be manifested here. I can’t predict whether you will catch fire, or not.

The fire overtakes you, and consumes you, and transforms you. Listen now: you can’t keep Christ in your pocket, like a watch you take out and put back. You might be a watch in His pocket; He will not be a watch in your pocket. The “Christ” you have kept in your pocket is an idol: a trinket.

The real Christ is a consuming fire.

Did you know? The world is destined to be consumed by fire. II Peter 3:10 “But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” That’s the Glorious Second Coming of Christ: the Resurrection of the Universe. The very rocks will cry: “Glory! Glory!”

That’s coming. Nobody knows what day or what hour [see Mt 24:36]. But even before that day, even now, the fire is burning, in the Holy Church. The saints of God are melted with fervent heat, in the fervent love of God, and they cry “Glory! Glory!”

Christian, does that sound familiar? Is it true for you? Are you standing in the fire? That’s what the preacher comes to ask: Are you standing in the fire?

I’m not talking about your emotions. The fire is not exactly an emotion. Christ is not an emotion. Christ is a living Person: the Lord of Heaven and Earth. He is coming, in the Holy Eucharist, and coming for you, coming to transform you. He wants to make you into a saint. That’s the reason you were born. You were created so Christ could make you a saint. I know very well how strange that sounds. It sounds absurd. We have grown so cool in the Church today, the very language of the Gospel is embarrassing to us. It sounds absurd.

So be it! It is absurd! I will be absurd: REPENT!

Repent! You need to repent! Give up the idea that you are “a pretty good person” – – whatever that is. Let me tell you something no saint ever said: in all the long history of the Christian Church, no saint was ever heard to say, “I think I’m a pretty good person.” People who say that are not standing in the fire. People who say that are only warming themselves, beside the fire.

In the fire, the saints say, “Mercy! Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!” [see Luke 18:38] And that’s what you are; that’s what I am: a sinner. Sinner, give up your excuses. Give Him your heart, your soul, your mind. Give Him all of it.

This is the meaning of your life, the purpose of everything that has happened in your life, the good and the bad. It was all arranged to get you here: it brought you to the edge of the fire.

Christian, come into the fire! It is blazing in this Holy Eucharist. In the Communion of His Body and Blood, fire breaks out, into the Holy Church. The Divine Life is offered, freely, to anyone with simple faith to ask for it. Ask for it! Let His Holy Spirit overtake you, and transform you. And then go, to burn for Jesus Christ. Go to be His lights in this dark world. God Speed.


Kevin Holsapple is an Episcopal priest in Bangor Maine.

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