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Saturday, second week of Advent

December 13, 2008

Blessed St. Lucy’s Day! (look for her story ion the “saints of Advent” category)

Lord, give us courage through the prayers of St. Lucy.
As we celebrate her entrance into eternal glory,
we ask to share her happiness in the life to come.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings:
Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11 (the glory of Elijah)
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19 “Lord, make us turn to You, let us see Your Face and we shall be saved”
+ Matthew 17:10-13 (Jesus refers to St. John the Baptist as Elijah)

God does not leave us to our own devices in our need for conversion. He never has and He never will.

In the northern Kingdom of Israel, the late 800’s B.C. were a time of gross idolatry, degradation, injustice and cruelty. Things had been going from bad to worse in the 60 years (or so) since Jeroboam had led the rebellion of 10 tribes of Israel against Solomon’s cocky son, King Rehoboam. Even in the early days of the divided kingdom, Jeroboam had set up golden calves (!) for the people to worship so they wouldn’t return to the temple in Jerusalem and be drawn back to allegiance with the house of David (I Kings 12:25-28). Once Jezebel, the queen whose wickedness has become proverbial, became the power behind King Ahab’s throne, the downward spiral became a moral free-fall. And she wasn’t about to listen to reason.

God knew. He knew that strong medicine was needed to check the deadly disease of corruption. A gentle reminder wasn’t going to do it. The nation needed a drastic wake-up call.

The prophet Elijah was God’s chosen messenger. In stark contrast to the decadence of the royal court, Elijah ate whatever simple food God provided: bread and meat brought by ravens next to the brook (I Kings 17:6), “cakes” of oil and flour prepared by the widow of Zerephath (I Kings 17:11-16), a hearth cake provided by an angel (I Kings 19:6). He wore a coarse, hairy garment, with a leather belt (II Kings 1:8) and often lived in the wilderness, in hiding (I Kings 17:3, 19:3ff, I Kings 1:9).

Elijah’s poverty stripped him of any claim to earthly power of his own. The power he wielded was divine. When he proclaimed a drought, the skies were closed for 3 years (Sirach 48:3, I Kings 18:1). When he called down fire from Heaven on a saturated sacrifice, even the water in the trench around the altar was consumed (I Kings 18:34-38). Two companies of soldiers sent to capture him were also consumed by fire from Heaven (II Kings 1:9-12), and he was finally taken up to Heaven in the whirlwind of a fiery chariot and horses (II Kings 2:11).

While Jezebel herself never showed any signs of repentance, her husband did (I Kings 21:27), and so did the people of Israel (I Kings 18:39-40). God’s remedy had prevailed. The disease of sin had been checked.

God, however, wasn’t done with us. Sin is, unfortunately, a renewable resource. Generation after generation, we need this call to repentance. It’s particularly critical as we approach the Lord’s coming. Through the prophet Micah, God promises to send His messenger to prepare the way before Him (Micah 3:1). He will again send Elijah the prophet to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Micah 3:24).

There seem to be two meanings to this. The angel who told Zachariah he was to father St. John the Baptist, also said that God would “go before this child in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children” (Luke 1:17). When the disciples asked Jesus about the prediction that Elijah would come first, He replied “’Elijah has already come, but they did not recognize him and they did as they pleased with him.’…The disciples then realized that He had been speaking to them about John the Baptizer” (Matthew 17:12,13). John the Baptist was like Elijah in his garment of skins, his wilderness life and simple food (Matthew 3:1-4). He, too, boldly called people to repentance, including the adulterous King Herod, whose lust cost the Baptist his head (Matthew 14:3-11). Herod’s scheming “wife”, Herodias, had much in common with the murderous Jezebel.

However, Jesus also said, “Elijah is indeed coming, and he will restore everything” (Matthew 17:11). The Fathers of the Church see this as an indication that we can expect Elijah again at the end of time, as one of the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:3-12. Even in the predictions of Micah, there is a distinction between the Lord’s first coming, when He will purify the sons of Levi that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord (Micah 3:3, referring to priests offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass), and His second coming, the day that will blaze like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, set on fire, left with neither root nor branch…the great and terrible day (Micah 3:19, 23).

Each coming will be preceded by the Lord’s messenger, by one who will call all to repentance. The Fathers suggest that while John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah, Elijah will come in person at the end of time.

However literally we take that, the fact is that the end of time could come at any moment. This season of Advent, in addition to being a time of preparation for our celebration of Jesus’ first coming, is also a time of preparation for His second coming. We must always be alert, awake, ready to welcome Him with the joy of a pure conscience. And He will help us.

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