You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come. … Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
— John The Baptist in the Gospel of Matthew, 3:7, 10-11
The December 8 date for the Second Sunday of Advent may come across as a confusing occurrence with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, being moved to Monday. Many Filipino Catholics are now asking if they need to attend Holy Mass on both days, since Mary’s feast is a holy day of obligation in the Philippines.
Ask your diocese or archdiocese. Some say today’s Mass fulfills the holy day obligation tomorrow. Others note that the Mass requirement is for December 8 only; so, if the Immaculate Conception is celebrated another day to give way to the Second Sunday of Advent, there is no need for Mass on December 9.
Whether one attends one or two Masses, read the Bible texts for both. Then one can glean nothing less than God’s plan of salvation, in the words of Isaiah the Prophet, John the Baptist, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
So, what’s the plan? Many people today see saving the world as demanding the collaboration of governments to stop global warming, end poverty, eradicate lawlessness, and institute world peace. In sum, using the structures of state, business, academe, and other institutions to fight the ills besetting society.
If that were God’s plan, then Jesus would have come as an emperor with legions, officialdom, and decrees to build a new world order. That certainly was not what the Prophet, the Baptist, and the Virgin spoke about. Rather than recasting of the world, they announced the transformation of heart and soul — yours and mine.
‘The Spirit shall rest on him’
Isaiah’s prophesy about the Messiah declared: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,” bringing wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, fear of the Lord, which brings delight. Those seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, with strength also called fortitude, and delight as piety; come with Christ for all Christians.
The promised Redeemer “shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.” No armed forces or state edicts, but the righteousness from within.
Advocates of social change may scoff at Isaiah’s prophesy of a Savior of peace reforming humanity with words alone. How, they may ask, could “the rod of his mouth” chastise the ruthless, or “breath of his lips” slay the wicked? To defeat oppression, militants would insist, we need laws and enforcers.
‘He will baptize with the Spirit’
Next on the salvation spiel: Jesus’s cousin John the Baptist, the first to prophesy again to the Jews after four centuries when God sent no one to speak for Him. John castigated the Jerusalem Temple worthies, as quoted in the opening, as well as anyone else who “does not bear good fruit.” They would be “cut down and thrown into the fire.”
But the Baptist still held out great hope, for the promised Messiah will come to “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” No mass roundup and punishment of the unjust and unrighteous, as revolutionaries wish. Instead, flames to burn out sin, then heavenly Spirit to infuse goodness and light in the cleansed soul.
What about John’s warning that the Savior “will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn,” then “burn [the chaff] with unquenchable fire”? These lines have conjured visions of hell through the millennia, and that interpretation has validity.
No less than the Blessed Virgin Mary, appearing in Fatima in July 1917, affirmed the Inferno’s existence with the first of three secret visions given to Portuguese peasant children, Saints Jacintha and Francisco Marto, and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos.
Still, with the Messiah baptizing with both fire and Spirit, one may also read his burning of chaff as the cleansing of humanity’s sinfulness and selfishness. And in this renewal of every human being, the Lord aims to fill everyone with his virtue and grace, like barns full of wheat.
‘The Spirit will come upon you’
How exactly will the Spirit change people from the inside? Reformers would rather put their faith in schools, organizations, police and other institutions of social engineering. Our Lord certainly taught respect for authority in society, rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But for real change lasting millennia, the Spirit of God, not the structures of man, must act.
So, it was when the Angel Gabriel announced to the young virgin Mary that she will bear a child who “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” as recounted in the Gospel of Luke, 1:26-38, at the Immaculate Conception Mass tomorrow. (Though the reading recounts Christ’s Incarnation in Mary’s womb, the feast celebrates her conception without sin.)
Mary wondered how she was to bear a child when she had “no relations with a man.” The Angel explained: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Today, one may ask how one could become holy amid a lifetime of sin? Or how the world could embrace justice, compassion, and peace after millennia of injustice, hate and war, despite the rise and fall of empires seeking to establish heaven on earth.
Well, since the Spirit made a virgin bear a son, He can make the sinful bear good fruit. Rulers and regiments could never do so, but He can, “for nothing is impossible with God.” Amen.