Friday 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. At one point, John warns the people that unless they reform, they will be cut down like trees and burned. 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 center on God as the human’s benefactor. Although Jesus will not shrink from mentioning God’s power to cast sinners into hell, he will stress God’s tender mercy. God, he will say, has counted the number of hairs on each faithful person’s head to insure her or his total salvation.
Since love can be looked upon as a kind of fire, we might contrast John’s theme with Jesus’ using the same image. Fire can destroy dispassionately as well as purify with all compassion. John, following Elijah, will use the threat if not the force of a blazing fire to warn us of the danger that dissolute living incurs. In contrast God’s love, incarnate in Jesus, burns like a surgeon’s laser beam not harming but healing us.