“Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble… But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” (Mal 3:19-20a)
Advent arrives just two Sundays from today. While it is still too soon to display images of the Nativity of Jesus, it is not too soon to begin anticipating our display. In fact our liturgical anticipation of the arrival of Christ goes into high gear during these last few Sundays before Advent. For instance, our scriptural quotation taken from today’s first reading is from the very last book of the Old Testament; just before we turn the page to the New. Malachi is the prophet of great expectation. He says, “Lo, the day is coming”. In fact, the day is approaching, “blazing like an oven” for the rebellious. The day is also coming when “the sun of justice” will arise and bring healing to the meek and faithful. The source of radiance to both the evil and the good is the same – the Lord God – the one, single flame which roasts all evil deeds and evildoers while also rehabilitating all gracious deeds and humble worshipers.
In Chapter three of his book, Malachi compares “stubble”, people who refuse to repent of sin, to “silver”, those refined through repentance (Mal 3:3). For the Lord “will draw near to you for judgment” and “will be swift to bear witness” against all deadly sins (Mal 3:5). Then in verse six of chapter three God exclaims through Malachi that the Divine Being does not change. The judgment of God, that is, the holy presence of God, is one and same eternal flame which will burn up the proud and defiant stubble, yet will purify and sanctify the tarnished silver.
Whence does the bright “sun of justice” arise? What is this fire that is coming for us all? It is the “dawn from on high”, Jesus Christ, who “… shall… shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death… to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).
Thus for this pre-Advent reflection on the coming judgment of God for this 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we have placed on our bulletin cover a work by the Venetian master Jacopo Bassano entitled The Annunciation to the Shepherds (1560). This work bespeaks that nocturnal style of Tintoretto in which light emerges from and into darkness. Here Bassano has heaven open into a pastoral scene, a meeting of the supernatural with the natural. This style known as Mannerism abandoned the classical reserve of the Renaissance and created a bridge for the increasingly mystical and active Baroque.
Mannerism is controlled pandemonium as we see here in this packed scene with heads turning this way and that way. This claustrophobic shepherd’s camp immersed in twilight is a plethora of postures; even the animals point in all directions. Yet from both corners of the image forming an implied arrow with the appearing angel above, we the observers are able to look into heaven where the radiance of the divine fire pours forth upon the earth.
This angel could well be exclaiming, “Lo, the day is finally here”. We too must, like the shepherds, leave our packed and harried cubicles to follow the Son of Justice.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services