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Advent – 19th December: Elijah, John, Jesus and the Coming of the Lord.

Monday, December 19, 2011
Judges 13:2-7 & 14-25a; Ps 71; Luke 1:5-25.

It was a common belief among the Jews at the time of Jesus that the prophet Elijah would reappear and prepare the people for a visitation of the Lord in holiness. Elijah was thought to have been caught up into heaven at the end of his life (2 Kings 2:1-14). Since he had not died, he would be able to reappear before the Day of the Lord (See Malachi 3:23-24.) When he came, he would preach conversion, holiness, and reconciliation among the people.
In the gospel accounts of the public ministry it is clear that some people speculated that John might be this return of Elijah (John 1:21) and some thought Jesus was fulfilling this role (see Lk 9:19; Mk 8: 28; Mt 16:14). Jesus made clear in Matthew (17:9-13), Mark (9:9-13) and less directly in Luke (7:24-27) that he considered John had fulfilled this role. In today’s gospel, the annunciation of the angel to Zechariah about the future role of his son also makes this clear: ‘with the sprit and power Elijah, he will go before him to reconcile fathers to the children and the disobedient to the good sense of the upright, preparing for the Lord, a people fit for him (Lk 1:17). It seems that John did not take this identity upon himself but simply saw himself (Jn 1:21) as articulating the words of Isaiah 40: ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ (Jn 1:22-23; Lk 3:3-6 and also the Benedictus, Lk 1:76-79). However, it is highly significant that Jesus and the early church following him, ascribe the role of Elijah to John. It makes him a very great prophet, bringing their line of looking forward and witness to its climax and end. At the same time he heralds a new age and so stands on the threshold of two ages, or phases of God’s providence for his people (see Luke 7:24-30; & 16:16).
Giving this significance to John as Elijah, points to a still greater significance for Jesus. If John, not Jesus, is Elijah, then Jesus is connected far more closely with the actual visitation of God to save his people. He is the Lord come in person to save his people. Jesus is also called the Christ as well but this was understood to mean he was a divine Christ, one caught up into the heavenly realm and more closely associated with God than a very earthly Christ who many expected (Lk 20:41-44). ‘Elijah’ then, prepared for this heavenly Christ, who is the Lord. John was right in saying he was unfit to undo his sandal strap. And neither are we!

The God who comes at Christmas is a God of immense holiness and for whom only God can prepare us by grace but this can only happen with our co-operation. It is for these reasons that each Advent the Church represents John as Elijah, calling ‘prepare the way for the Lord’. Jesus made it clear that the people of his day in general did not heed the message to prepare for the Lord and they would thus reject Jesus too (Mk 9:11-13; Mt 17:9-13; Lk 7:29-30). Will we do any better? Are we responding to the message of John as we prepare for Christmas? Let us not be distracted or misled by cute cribs and beautiful babies! The conception of John points to the mercy of God and to God’s power to change hopeless human situations. Given hope by this, are we preparing for Christmas by a focus on the Lord, and, in the light of this, by moral conversion, by being reconciled to those around us, by acting justly, by humility of heart (Lk 3:7-18)? Or will we in effect ignore or reject Elijah, John and Jesus this year, however much religion, carols and festivity we get caught up in? Each of us must choose, and each of us must face the consequences of that choice. They may be a lot worse than losing our voice for several months

Andrew Brookes OP


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