December 23rd – Lk 1:57-66
Today’s first reading describes, in rather frightening terms, what will happen when the Lord’s messenger appears. That reading mentions refining metals three times, and in part it is this language that gives rise to frightening tone of Malachi’s prophecy. Yet, when we consider this analogy more closely, we see a beautiful image of how God works in our lives, an image that fills us with hope rather than fear.
The process of refining uses high temperatures to burn off all the impurities present in a piece of metal. However, the process for silver is particularly involved and delicate, and too much time in the fire ruins the metal. So, how does the refiner know exactly when the silver is ready? As one Catholic Biblical scholar writes [A. Robinson, CBQ, 11 (1949), 189f.], “there is a dramatic moment when [the silversmith] knows that all dross has gone from it. Peering over it, the silver suddenly becomes a liquid mirror in which the image of the refiner is reflected. Then he knows that his task is done.” In a similar way, God allows us to be tested by fire, that is, by the trials and temptations of this life. Rather than destroy us, which would happen if we were not held in the hands of an all-powerful, all-loving God, the trials slowly burn away all that is not God. That process of purification is complete when we bear the image of God, when we become a perfect reflection of His likeness.
In today’s Gospel, in response to God’s great workings, “fear comes upon” the neighbors of John the Baptist and, although they take these events to heart, they discuss them at length amongst themselves “throughout the hill country of Judea.” What a contrast to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who believes and rejoices, and tenderly keeps all these things in her heart in order to converse with God about them. We can ask ourselves: what is our response to God’s great workings in our lives, and especially that great work of our sanctification? Is it to complain, or is it to be afraid at His workings? Or is it to patiently endure His loving work in our souls?
As we approach the nativity of our Lord, let us ask for the grace, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, to embrace the gift of God’s Son who comes to us at Christmas and who patiently and lovingly works our purification.