Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Spirit at Christmas! - Third Sunday of Advent

Reflections on the Readings

Third Sunday of Advent - December 14, 2014 - Year B

The Spirit at Christmas

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-21)

"Just who are you?" they asked John the Baptizer. Throngs of people were lining up to be baptized by him. News of his impact on the people reached the highest religious authorities in Jerusalem. Something new and never seen before was transpiring on the banks of the Jordan river. Looking straight into the eyes of his interrogators John explained, "I am not the Christ."

"Well, who are you then?" they persisted. "We need to give an answer to those who sent us! Are you Elijah or the Prophet? What do you have to say for yourself?" John insisted he was a voice in the desert crying out announcing the coming of the Lord. "One last question," they snarled. "If you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet, why then do you baptize." John looked beyond them as though he saw something no one else noticed. And with the confidence of a prophet John whispered into the air, "I baptize with water; but the coming One whom you do not recognize is greater than me and will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I am not worthy to untie his sandal strap."

From the very beginning, the story of Christ is a story filled with the Holy Spirit. When Mary asks how can she bear a child since she does not know a man, Gabriel's answer is, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." 

It is this same Holy Spirit Paul asks us to embrace and to welcome in the second reading. It is the same Holy Spirit we are promised who will lead us and guide us into all that is true concerning Christ and his love. It is the same Holy Spirit who inspires us to say, "Jesus is Lord!" In all that we say and do we are to invite the Holy Spirit and welcome him for he is the very breath of God. We can no more live in Christ without the Holy Spirit than we can live without oxygen. 

The Holy Spirit gives rise to rejoicing. He helps us to know how to pray and to pray without ceasing. Through the Holy Spirit we give thanks especially in the Great Thanksgiving at the Holy Table. It is the Holy Spirit that Paul says that we should not quench nor despise. Rather we should as the Church did in its earliest days welcome and adore the Holy Spirit. As we confess every Sunday in the creed, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets."

We should resist the temptation to regulate and tame the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth leads us into the things of God, or as St. Paul said, the deep things of God. If we are to go deeper into the love of God we will allow the Holy Spirit more space, more control, more movement in our heart. 

Pope Francis in his April 16, 2013 homily spoke about resistance to the Holy Spirit. He said, "To get to the point, the Holy Spirit annoys us, because he moves us…Do not take up resistance to the Holy Spirit: this is the grace for which I wish we would all ask the Lord; docility to the Holy Spirit, to that Spirit who comes to us and make us go forward on the path of holiness, that holiness of the Church which is so beautiful." 

The Holy Spirit gives us strength and courage and fills us with joy. There is a particular kind of joy that comes from tinsel and pretty paper and bright lights. But there is another source of joy. It is a joy filled with the glory and promise of peace on earth and good will toward all. That joy my friend is drawn from that deep well of the Spirit who reminds us always that our faith must not rest on the wisdom of men but in the power of God, in the real Spirit of Christmas. Amen. 

Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:

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