Thursday, December 23, 2010

In the spirit and power of Elijah

After nine months of silence, Zechariah was able to speak at the circumcision of his son whom he named “John”. He spoke blessing God and fear descended upon his neighbors who recognized that the child born to both the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth was no ordinary child: “What will this child be? Surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”

“What will this child be?” He will be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi: “Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with doom.” When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah by the altar of incense in the temple, he said that the child to be born of Elizabeth “will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

“In the power and spirit of Elijah…” indeed, Elijah will for ever be remembered as the prophet who brought down fire from heaven to awaken the Israelites from their idolatry. The image of fire evokes not only passion but also purification. St. John the Baptist would prepare a people for the Lord by preaching a baptism of repentance. Being the voice crying in the wilderness, he will speak with powerful and passionate words: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every mountain shall be made low and every valley be filled.” His tongue is like a sharp sword because he speaks not in a flowery and politically correct manner. No, he speaks direct to the point: he tells Pharisees and Sadducees “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” He tells Herod directly that “it is not right for you to take your brother’s wife?” There is no pretense in his words: “Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” To him, the coming of the Lord is not an excuse for parties nor a license for enjoyment but something we should truly prepare for by our conversion: “Yes, he is coming…But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye. He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord. Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord, as in the days of old, as in years gone by.” John the Baptist pointed always to Christ as the one mightier than himself; he is the voice but Christ is the Word. The Holy Father said: “It is the word which illuminates, purifies, converts; we are only its servants.” (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 30 September 2010, 93.)

What does it mean to us that the Baptist is born? It means that the day of the Lord is near! “I will send you Elijah before the day of the Lord comes.” Indeed, the day of the Lord comes – the Simbang Gabi draws to a close. Christmas is 2 days away. Are our preparations near completion? But do not just think of your shopping list. Think of the preparations that really count: “to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous…” Have we become a people fit for the Lord? “The day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day.” The One to be born to us may be a little child but helpless as he may be in the manger, his Divinity has never been diminished. He who will be born is the Son of Man who will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff. He is the Truth before whom everything hidden comes to light. He will come to judge the living and the dead!

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