Monday December 23, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week of Advent
Reading (Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24) Gospel (St. Luke 1:57-66)
In the Book of the Prophet Malachi which we heard in the first reading, the Lord tells us that before the day of the Lord comes, He is going to send His messenger; and His messenger, He tells us, is going to be the prophet Elijah. The spirit of the prophet Elijah, as we can already see from Scripture, is a spirit that is going to be passed down; it is one that can be in many people. And so we see in Scripture that the prophet Elisha received a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. We see also that John the Baptist, from the words of Our Lord Himself, was Elijah; that is, he came in the power and the spirit of Elijah. He came specifically for the purpose, as we hear right here, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers lest the Lord would come and strike the land with doom; so it was to prepare the way. As we know, he preached a baptism of repentance so that the people would turn their hearts to their heavenly Father, so that they would have their hearts purified, as we hear in this reading from Malachi, that He would purify them like silver or like gold, He would refine them, purifying them in fire, which is the way that gold and silver have to be purified. And that is precisely the way human beings need to be purified as well; not in a physical fire, but rather in what feels sometimes like a fire, in a purification through the suffering that we have to endure.
And so the Lord, before He sends His Son into the world, is going to purify things. Just as happened 2,000 years ago, so before the time of Our Lord’s return there will be at least one if not numerous people who will come in the power and the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way so that the people will turn their hearts to the Lord. At the same time, we see that many people came to John the Baptist out in the desert, acknowledging their sins, confessing them, and receiving his baptism. We know also that there were many who did not. In fact, those who were considered the religious authorities of the time ridiculed those who would go out to John the Baptist because he looked like a fool to them. This man looked insane and why would anybody go out to the desert and listen to what he is saying when, after all, they had their priests and the Pharisees and Sadducees and they could listen to them?
What we need to be able to see is the way that God is going to work. We need to listen for the truth wherever it is going to be found and we need to reject any kind of falsehood. Sometimes the truth is going to be heard from somebody that we do not necessarily expect it to come from. And sometimes falsehood is going to be coming from the people who are supposed to be teaching the truth. And so it is an important lesson for us that the spirit of Elijah is going to be found in somebody who we may not always expect, or at least whom the world would not expect. But it does not matter who has that spirit; what matters is that we are looking for God’s Will, that we are seeking the truth, that we want to be purified so that we will have our hearts ready, so that on the day of the Lord we will not be caught off guard. That is what really matters for us. It does not matter who it is that has the spirit of Elijah; what matters is that when the one comes with the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Lord, that we listen to him. That is the part that matters.
For each one of us, then, it will be able to be said – as was said about Elizabeth, as was said about John – that God’s favor was there and all will be able to rejoice that God’s favor has been extended to us to be able to receive the grace of God. Then everyone will wonder, “Who are these people and what are they to be?” We are the children of God. We are called to turn our hearts now back to our Father because we have the celebration of the Day of the Lord in two days. As we prepare for the day when Our Lord came into this world the first time, as we prepare to commemorate that, we want to purify our hearts, to make sure that through the confession of our sins that we are prepared to celebrate this great feast. We also, of course, as we know from this Advent season, look forward then to the Second Coming of Our Lord, and we want this first coming (the commemoration of that in our own lives) to prepare us for what is to come, to prepare our hearts, to turn our hearts back to our heavenly Father so that we will be prepared, purified like the gold or silver that God wants us to be so that we will shine brilliantly in the kingdom of our God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.