December 15, 2012
Assistant Professor, Physical Therapy
Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11
Psalm 80:2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19
Matthew 17:9a, 10-13
The first reading teaches us that Elijah, a great prophet although not the Messiah, was destined to “come again” to unite families and strengthen lineage. Jesus himself then infers in Mathew’s Gospel that Elijah’s second coming was as John the Baptist. Huh? Without a theological background I feel completely inadequate to explain this phenomenon. I did not know that anyone but Jesus could come again. Even though a lifelong Catholic, I did not attend Catholic school and somehow missed this! I am also unsure about the meaning or the lesson in the Elijah/ John the Baptist connection with the implied reincarnation. Despite my misgivings at attempting to explain this relationship, I can see the similarities between these two men of different covenants. Elijah, represented by fire, is called “the loftiest and most wonderful prophet of the Old Testament” (Elijah, 1997). John the Baptist is arguably his New Testament counterpart-- aside from the Messiah, God’s most important earthly representative.
Both were wild men: they lived in the elements, spent time alone away from society, but, when called to move among the people, played the role of teacher and worked to help people to grow closer to God. Elijah strengthened the lineage of God’s original people prior to the coming of Christ; in Christ’s lifetime his cousin John baptized his followers into God’s new family, the kingdom among us. The last similarity between these two great men, possibly the same man in two different lifetimes, is that of the use of elemental signs of life as their tools to teach and guide. Examined separately Elijah is the “fire” prophet; John the Baptist uses “water” to give new life. Examined together the symbolism might lead to the combined idea of “baptism by fire.” Some Christian scholars interpret this to mean the fires of hell; that is, those who do not repent will burn. Others believe that it is only through fire (hardship) we can be born again (gain entrance to heaven).
In honor of the Advent season I’d like to relate these ideas of “baptism by fire” and the work of the prophets Elijah and John the Baptist to what happens next… the reason for the season, what we’ve all been waiting for… the birth of a tiny baby to a poor family far from home. What could be considered more raw or elemental than the miracle of life? Just as Jesus was a real man, Mary had a real labor: pain which can be likened to fire, blood running everywhere as abundant as water, Mary a virgin lying in the hay of a stable made for animals. Giving birth to Jesus certainly must have felt like a baptism by fire! But like any birth of any baby, the pain and the fear and the uncertainty lead to only one thing- a miracle, arguably the greatest miracle any of us may witness in our lifetimes. To celebrate this most special miracle of Christmas, the birth of our Savior, we gather our families to us, we strengthen traditions, and we reminisce about the good old days and look forward with hope to what will come. Throughout the season we will light the candles of the Advent wreath and logs on the fire to warm our homes; we will make the sign of the Cross with Holy Water in a mini baptism every time we enter church; and we will use the gift of water to cook our holiday meals and wash our holiday dishes. Most importantly we will enjoy the Greatest Gift, the fulfillment of our hope, an end to our waiting, the birth of the promised one: Jesus.
Elijah. (1997). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 23, 2012 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01592b.htm