Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
(Malachi 3:1-4.23-24; Luke 1:57-66)
In Luke’s gospel John the Baptist clearly takes the place of Elijah, the prophet of fire. He warns the people that unless they reform and do good works, they will be cut down like trees “and thrown into the fire.” In this way John goes before the Lord, as his father Zechariah proclaims in his song of jubilation at his naming, “to prepare his ways.”
Jesus will not take up John’s message of the primacy of divine wrath. Rather, his preaching will be dominated by the image of God as human’s protector. Although he will not shrink from mentioning God’s power to cast a sinner into hell, Jesus will stress God’s love. God, he will say, has counted the number of hairs on each of his followers’ heads to insure their total salvation.
Since love can be looked upon as a kind of fire, we might forge a distinction. Fire can destroy dispassionately, and it can purify with all compassion. John, following Elijah, will use images if not the force of a blazing fire to warn us of the danger that dissolute living incurs. God’s love, incarnate in Jesus, is a fire like a surgeon’s laser. It will not harm but heal and make us whole.