"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, «Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.» For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Is. 40:3) Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees coming for
baptism, he said to them, «You brood of vipers! Who warned you to
flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and
do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for
I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore
that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me
is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in
his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into
the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.»"
"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, «Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.» For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Is. 40: 3).
John the Baptist is one of the major figures of the time of Advent. He is, as we know, the Precursor of the Lord, the one who was charged by God to announce the coming and the presence of the Messiah to the Jewish People, the Chosen People: "The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus." (John 1:35-37)
John the Baptist is the mediator of the Old Covenant, he is the spokesman for all those who awaited the Messiah: from Abel, who offered his most beautiful lambs to God (cf. Genesis 4:4), to Isaiah, who had already proclaimed the messianic role of the suffering Servant. John the Baptist is the last prophet of the Old Covenant: he is the one who announces a future event, but who also sees the realization of his prophecy!
Truly, he is the figure of the Church! For the Church, in her fullness, speaks on behalf of all those who announced the coming of the kingdom of God: the testimony of all the men and women who preceded us on the pilgrimage of faith is an integral part of the spiritual good of the entire Church which announces that the Lord will return to establish his kingdom, without end and without limit.
"«I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.»"
There is a baptism of water, and there is a baptism of fire! What does this mean? The baptism of John is a baptism of water. It is just like the baptism of the Church. Therefore, there is a baptism of water, which is that of the Church, and a baptism of fire. Now, Saint Paul told us that there is "one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). Yet we cannot deny that water is not fire, and we must understand water and fire here in the material sense: in the baptism of the Church, it is real water that is used, and in the baptism of fire, it is true fire, since John the Baptist explicitly said: ". . . the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Saint Peter, in his second epistle, gives us the key to this mystery: "By the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." (2 Peter 3:7) Now we can see the true meaning of the baptism of water and the baptism of fire: the baptism of water is destined to the purification of the soul, while the baptism of fire is destined to the purification of the body. During our life on earth, our soul is purified of its sins by baptism, as well as by repentance; but our body is not yet purified: it will be purified only in the end times, when the Lord will resurrect our body for eternal glory.
"«His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.»"
A winnowing fork is used to separate grain from straw or any other refuse. John the Baptist is therefore saying that the Lord is going to separate the good grain from the tares: he is going to judge the men and women whom he created in his Love! Yes! God is Love, but God is also Justice! It is dangerous to separate Love from Justice in God, for this would be to truncate the reality of his being. It is necessary to take Justice into account, because if we do not we would err and become lost . . . God calls us to his Love, but if we don't answer his call, we will have to answer to his Justice.
The Eucharist which we are going to celebrate summarizes all of what
we have said. Indeed, Saint Paul warns us: "Let a man examine
himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup." (1 Cor. 11:28)
The Eucharist is the Love of God which we receive within us, but it is
also the righteous Judge who comes to resurrect us in glory, or to condemn
us in ignominy. The Eucharist is also the sign and the prophetic
reality in which the entire Church is present: that of yesterday,
in that of today, announcing that of tomorrow! May Mary help us on
the way to salvation, towards our meeting with Christ the Lord!