The Fire Next Time – Meditation on the Epistle for the Second Sunday of Advent

An old spiritual says, God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, but the fire next time. The second reading in today’s Mass speaks to us of the “Fire next time” and again reminds of the need to be ready for the coming of the Lord. Note four aspects of this reading:

1. The PATIENCE that is PURPOSEFUL. The text says, Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Though the Lord seems long delayed in coming (2000+ years!), the text tells us that this patience is so that as many of us can be saved as possible.

But notice that the text says that God wants us to come to repentance. So God’s patience should not be seen as a place for presumption, but, rather, a time for repentance. This is no time to say, “Later.” This is a time to be serious about repentance and preparation to meet the Lord.

Note too that the Greek word here translated as repentance is μετάνοιαν (metanoian), referring not just to better behavior, but also to new mind. For our transformation is not merely external but also internal. When, what we think changes, so does our behavior. When our thinking is conformed to God’s revealed truth, our priorities, feelings, desires and decisions all begin to change as well. Conversion and repentance are the result of being a changed and transformed human being with a new mind.

2. The PASSING that is PERILOUS. The text says, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

In effect, the text says that God’s gonna set this world on fire one of these days. And when he comes it will be

A. Sudden – For the text says that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. This is quite a consistent image that Jesus used for the Day of Judgement as well. But the image should not be true for us who wait and watch. St. Paul says, But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief….So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. (1 Thess 5:4,6).

Further the image of the thief is also not for us if we realize that all we have and are belong to God. For those who are worldly, and claim authority over themselves and ownership over their things, God is a thief who comes suddenly, and in a hidden way. He overtakes their apparent ownership and possession and puts an end to it. To them he seems a thief as he “steals” what they consider theirs. They are badly misled.

But for we who watch and are prepared (pray God), the Lord comes not to take, but to give; to bestow and reward as we inherit His Kingdom.

B. Shocking – For the text speaks of the heavens as roaring and of fire which overwhelms, and by it, all will be dissolved with fire.

Now here too, the image, though shocking, should not alarm us if we are already on fire. At Pentecost, and personally, at our baptism and confirmation, the Lord lit a fire in us to set us spiritually on fire; to  bring us up to the temperature of glory. Thus, for those in the Lord, the “weather” on that day will seem just fine.

The prophet Malachi speaks of the twofold experience of the Day of the Lord in this way: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. Notice therefore, that for some the Day is burning with wrathful heat, but for the Just, it is a sunny day wherein the Sun (Son) of righteousness will bring warmth and healing (Mal 4:1-3).

An old spiritual glosses on this verse saying, God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no water but the fire next time. Thus God wants to get us ready by setting us on fire with his love and grace. If God is a Holy Fire then we must become fire ourselves in order to endure the day of his coming.

C. Showing – for the text says, all things will be revealed.

So it would seem that this fire burns away the masks many people wear and they are seen for they are. The Lord says, But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matt 12:36). And again he says, There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (Lk 12:2-3).

Now even the just may wince at this, for all have a past and would prefer the past stay in the past. But I have sometimes seen, when I have visited 12 Step meetings, how many will recount vividly what they did when they were drinking. And they do so with little shame and much laughter, for they share it among those who understand, and as one who has been set free from the source of the problem. Perhaps for the just on that disclosing Day it will be like that.

But for those who are among the unrepentant, consider the embarrassment and fear as their secrets, sins and injustices are disclosed among those who are also unforgiving and unmerciful. A bad scene really.

3. The PRESCRIPTION that is PROCLAIMED – the text says, Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire….Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

The text asks rhetorically “What sort of persons ought you to be?!” The answer in a word is “fiery.” God has lit a fire in us to purify and refine us. Hence on that Day, when the Lord will judge by fire, we will pass through. And though some final purifications (purgation) may take place, the fact that the fire has been kindled in us, and fanned into flame, will mean just that, purification, not destruction. St Paul describes the just as going through the purgatorial fire that leads to purfication rather than destruction in hell: If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor 3:12-15).

So the prescription for us is that we let God set us afire now so as to purify us, making us more holy and devout. The fire now of His Holy Spirit is the only thing that can truly prepare us  and permit us later to endure the day of his coming and be spared the “wrath to come” (cf 1 Thess 1:10; Matt 3:7; Romans 5:9; 1 Thess 5:9) when God will judge the world and everything in by fire.

4. The PERFECTION that is PROMISED – The text says, But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

This text presents the possibility that the created world will not so much be destroyed as purified by this fiery judgment of God. While the text may also signify a total destruction of all that now is, and a replacement of it by a new heavens and earth, it is also debated that the created world will instead be renewed, rather than destroyed and replaced. This view would correspond with other texts (e.g. Isaiah 11); and Romans 8 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.(Rom 8:20-21).

Whatever the solution, to the debate, the bottom line is that the new (or renewed) world will be a heaven wedded to earth in which full righteousness of God will be manifest. Further, we will be without spot or blemish and at peace. Yes, God’s gonna set this world on fire one of these days, Hallelujah. And God’s fire purifies that which is holy, and burns away all which is lacking or unholy. God will restore all things in Christ!

9 Replies to “The Fire Next Time – Meditation on the Epistle for the Second Sunday of Advent”

  1. “When our thinking is conformed to God’s revealed truth, our priorities, feelings, desires and decisions all begin to change as well.
    “Conversion and repentance are the result of being a changed and transformed human being with a new mind.”

    Didn’t Saint Thomas, in “De Veritate” (“On the Truth”), define Truth as conformity between reality and thinking (“adaequatio rei et intellectus”}?

    His Eminence argues for conformity between thinking (“intellectus”) and God’s revealed truth (“veritas revelata Dei”) which transforms the intellect which no longer conforms itself to human reality? Only to divine reality?

    In the 15 seconds between minutes 1:00 and 1:15 of his radio Homily for this Sunday, Father Gabriel Gillen, O.P., says that we have a desire to place our hope in One who can restore order and integrity, especially in times of chaos.

    Order is conformity between what and what?

  2. This homily on this blessed second sunday of advent is really hopegiving and comforting. Dear, your introduction and bit by bit exegesis and interpretation overwhelms me.

    Yes, God’s gonna do it again. He’s there for us, patient with us and his promises abide. He only calls us to an initiation already formed in Christ and through Christ. And we’re left with one option- repentance(metanoian). Thanks for this spirit-lifting homily.

  3. I am ofcourse aware of the “In the same way shall you see Him return”-passage;

    But since the people the Angel spoke those words to, are now dead and in Heaven, it is very, very unlikely that His return was to be witnessed by anyone other than those same dead saints.

    So presuming His arrival was not publicly noticed, and that He went for the “Thief in The Night”-option instead, who in the Church should He contact in order to avoid the loony-category others tend to end up in, when they claim to be Him?

    Again, thank you Monsignore.

  4. And by the way, there is another option for the “new heavens and earth” problem, and that is the following.
    The revealation was given from Jesus Christ, by means of “revelation” or unveiling.

    The simplest way to reveal or unveil something is simply by letting the receiver see excactly what you see, from your point of view, and through your eyes, and from the place you are standing.

    If this was the method used, John would have seen the world directly through the eyes of Jesus Christ.

    If Jesus then moved physically from the place described as The City of God, and out to the Wilderness somewhere, were the view was not the same, John would not realise that Jesus saw the “new heaven and the new earth” because He had relocated and now looked at a completely new view, from another place.

    This possibility is particulary suported by the phrase “I saw a New heaven”, most likely meaning that he saw other stars in the sky than he had before.

    Which in that case, would mean that either the entire galaxy had to be recreated, complete with new stars in new locations,


    the simpler explanation, namely that Jesus had changed location and was simply feeding John a new view from his new co-ordinates, and not neccecarily that the entire galaxy had been exchanged for a new one.

    However, that the world will be radically changed after The Verdict has been read, is ofcourse without doubt.

    But I have a very strong feeling that such a transformation will not be by any miracle of sudden recreation or spontaneous regrowth, but rather as a consquence of a grand-scale replanting or terraforming project,
    that Christ and The Church decides upon after taking over leadership of the planet.

    Anyway it is my view that the revelation was most likely given by Jesus to John so that Jesus Himself later, upon His return to earth through “Rebirth” could use it as a weekplanner of sorts, when the individual signs started manefesting.

    And Since “Rebirth” aparently is the only method available for people who died around year 30 AD, and yet wished to come back to earth later, in time to see the Kingdom of God finally be established, it would be wise to have Johns revelation already waiting for you upon your return to Earth, so that you would know the sequence of events and what would happen next, incase the Rebirth-process biologically excluded the posibility of taking memories with you from Heaven to Earth, due to the fact that you had to start with a complete new body, and go through a new cycle of conception, development, birth, childhood, adolecence, and manhood to be here just in time for the big finale.


  5. Do you think the fire that will renew the world at the Second Coming will be the Holy Spirit, the same Person Who sets the world on fire with love in the here and now? Or, will it be an a physical or metaphysical fire?

  6. Thanks Mgsr Pope for the reflection.

    It leads me to think a little about the similarities and differences between the fires of purgation on one hand, and the “bearing up under the weight of the Cross” (taking it up and following Him) on the other. Suffering is involved in both cases. The difference is perhaps the extent to which we are conformed to Christ. Our crosses presuppose that we are already, in some way, conformed to Jesus while the fires of purgation burn away the parts of us which are not in conformity. That’s my guess.

  7. “But I have sometimes seen, when I have visited 12 Step meetings, how many will recount vividly what they did when they were drinking. And they do so with little shame …”
    Thanks for that comment which reminds me of the times newcomers, who often seem puzzled by the laughter, are given assurance and hope as they’re told that, by thoroughly working their way through the Twelve Steps, they can come to laugh at the pain which typifies our early days. Here’s a link to a prescription written by “Doctor Bob” – one of cofounders of AA, the first of the Twleve Step groups, where we are first told to trust God.
    A wonderful description of the fire which reminds of numerous things. Quotes about the fire which melts the butter and tempers the steel or which refines the ore into the steel and the slag;

    Fire melted the ice and boiled it dry
    There’s not a drop when my parched throat will cry
    Fire melted the butter and burned it away
    It’s just a black smear on the ground today
    Then the fire was stoked and ate a sun for a meal
    As it folded and forged and tempered the steel
    For it could only temper the steel, not melt it like butter
    Even ‘though the ore was drawn forth from the gutter.
    (Copyright Peter S Wolczuk)
    I’m also reminded about a previous post here where there was some discussion about the souls which would suffer an eternal burning after The Judgement and why. This twigged memories of so many articles and debates about whether perfect Good needs evil as a sort of opposite pole in order to be seen as good and, sort of, how can God reasonably destroy evil?
    Well, I don’t know of anywhere that scripture claims that He will destroy evil but, there are those who stubbornly cling to consequences which lead to spending eternity in the lake of fire; Matthew 25 (esp.41 “Then he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”) and Revelation 20:14-15.
    I guess they’d be pretty good examples of evil and its consequences once sin has been sealed, maybe as in Daniel 9:24 “… . transgression, for placing the seal on sin,…”
    I wonder if the sealing of sin may have to do with; not just knowing of good & evil but – perhaps – understanding it through such things as getting back on the path which God had set out for us and off the sometimes parallel paths which an imperfect world has diverted us to. How uninspiring such an inferior parallel path would be and why struggle to try and stay on it if we were to see it as our best alternative if we’d lost complete awareness of the original track and the heart to resist negative temptation to sin. If we were brought to our true, pre conception destinies, as Jeremiah was in the beginning of the book that refers to him, how many of the seemingly overwhelming temptations would become blatantly absurd?
    And I just now recalled a popular 12 Step quote; “we’re as sick as our secrets” I wonder if that was inspired by the reference of Luke 12:2-3 that was mentioned here. I feel moved to bring it up a time or two ………… when relevant.

  8. On the eve of the Immaculate Conception, now more than ever let us use 12 noon -till 1p.m. as the Hour of Grace which Our Lady at Montiarchi requested of us to receive abundant blessings and Her maternal protection.
    She appeared at Montiarchi under the Ancient Title Rosa Mystica. Spread the word. listen and heed Our Mothers simple and extraordinary advice.

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