Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent – December 23
(Malachi 3:1-4.23-24; Luke 1:57-66)
The images used in today’s reading from Malachi create confusion. Obviously, “messenger” points to the coming of God’s definitive prophet. But is this messenger Jesus or John the Baptist? His being like a “refiner’s fire” gives a nod to John whose preaching scorched. But “refining them…that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord” sounds like Jesus’ salvific work. Let’s give the nod to Jesus as the messenger. If Elijah, the prophet, is to come before the day of the Lord, then he – and not the messenger -- must be associated with John.
The gospel passage also sees John as making the way for Jesus. It shows both Elizabeth and Zechariah bestowing the name “John” on their newborn. John means “The Lord has shown favor.” John shows the Lord’s favor by introducing Jesus, God’s definitive messenger. In time, the messenger will be understood as God incarnate, but in Luke he remains, for a good part, only his prophet.
The narratives about the coming of Jesus prepare us for his ministry and eventual death. John will go before Jesus announcing the coming of the long-expected savior. As he is arrested, Jesus will begin to preach eclipsing his precursor’s greatness. He will die after being rejected by his people and crucified by Romans. Yet he rises and sends his Holy Spirit to sanctify us who believe in him as Lord.