The one who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will gather his wheat into his barn and burn the chaff. (Matthew 3:11-12)
In ancient times, our forefathers awaited the Messiah. God had promised to send a Savior, a holy prophet, a king, a high priest of all creation, Who would overcome the Fall of Man.
“Justice shall be the band around his waist, faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” He shall judge. With justice. He will eliminate evil from the life of the world. And cows, bears, babies, and cobras will become frolicking friends. No harm, no ruin will then beset the glorious dwelling of the Christ.
The faithful souls of old patiently, earnestly awaited the fulfillment of these prophecies. They awaited the resolution of all history, the end of evil.
St. John the Baptist encountered the Christ while both of them still inhabited their mothers’ wombs. When John grew up, he awaited the Lord Jesus’ manifestation of His glory. Christ showed Himself the Messiah at His baptism in the River Jordan. Again Jesus showed Himself to be the divine Messiah when He glowed with transfigured light on Mt. Tabor. But, above all, Christ showed Himself the priest, prophet, and king of creation on the Cross.
If I might, I would like to share with you a couple stanzas of Boris Pasternak’s poem “Gethsemane.”
The field tailed off
Into the Milky Way.
Grey-haired olive trees tried to walk the air
Into the distance.
Unresisting he renounced
Like borrowed things
Omnipotence and the power to work miracles;
Now he was mortal like ourselves.
The night was a kingdom of annihilation…
The whole world seemed uninhabited…
He gazed into the black abyss…
Sweating blood, he prayed to his father.
Then the poem moves into Christ’s words to His disciples after He wakes them from sleep:
‘The book of life has reached the page
Which is the most precious of all holy things…
‘You see, the passage of the centuries is like a parable
And catches fire on its way.
In the name of its terrible majesty
I shall go freely, through torment, down to the grave.’
Whoa, Father. Heavy. Plus: You’re giving us a poem about the Garden of Gethsemane during Advent. Did you forget what month this is?
St. John declared that the Messiah will baptize with Spirit and fire, and He will separate the wheat from the chaff. St. John and all our holy ancestors lived their lives awaiting the true Judge, who would, by separating evil from good, fulfill the picture Isaiah painted: the paradise that God wills for us. That paradise stands outside time as we know it. It stands on the other side of a holy death.
Pasternak’s poem concludes with the Lord Jesus finishing His words to His disciples: ‘I shall go freely, through torment, down to the grave.
‘And on the third day I shall rise again.
Like rafts down a river, like a convoy of barges,
The centuries will float to me out of the darkness.
And I shall judge them.’
Our ancestors studied the books of Moses and the other prophets; they meditated endlessly on God fashioning the heavens and the earth out of nothing. They stilled their souls to such a silence that they could perceive God communicating as the rising sun began to distinguish the surrounding hillsides from the sky.
Today God may bring all of history to its fulfillment. Today God may show the fullness of His glory. And all yearning, striving, straining, and hoping will end.
Time floats toward Christ with terrible majesty, like barges on the river. But not towards a falls, over which everything topples into oblivion. No. Jesus stands there, at the end of the river, to judge. Life conquers death. And the picnic on the holy mountain begins, with frolicking cows, bears, babies, and cobras. And, please God, us.