from Carl Schartner
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
readings: Psalm 125; Malachi 3:16-4:6; Mark 9:9-13
A few days ago, we looked at the role of John the Baptist in the life of Jesus and as a messenger of the Good News. The Malachi 3:16-4:6 passage in today’s reading refocuses us again on the Baptist, for whom it was written, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” We know that Jesus, himself, identified John as Elijah (Matthew 17:10-13). However, when asked by the priests and Levites if he were Elijah, John denied it (John 1:21). So how should we reconcile and understand these conflicting views?
The most logical explanation for John’s denial that he was Elijah, is that John was avoiding being acclaimed as Elijah returned to earth in the flesh. Many Jews of the day believed that Elijah would bodily return to earth and did not understand the figurative reality of the prophecy. Some Jews also believed that Elijah’s bodily return would usher in an era of political supremacy for the Israelite nation. Because the Jews had misunderstood Malachi’s Elijah prophecy, John instead applied to himself the parallel prophecy in Isaiah 40:3 “A voice of one calling … prepare the way for the Lord” (John 1:23). The bottom line is that John clearly understood he was to fulfill the same role in his day that Elijah had, specifically, to call the nation of Israel to repentance and to do that “in the spirit and power of Elijah.”
Because of the life and work of Jesus, beginning with the glory of his birth and ending with his death and glorious resurrection, all believers have an additional and almost unbelievable identity. Our identity is not that of Elijah or of another great prophet, but the Apostle John writes “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1-2). There may be times in sharing our faith that we don’t want to immediately proclaim this truth, because it may be misunderstood. However, a most wonderful reality of our celebration of the season of Advent, is that by Jesus coming to earth as a human and accomplishing the work of salvation, all believers take on a wonderful, new identify. Just as John the Baptist lived his life “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” we are called to live of our lives in the spirit and power of Jesus, who has sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us with God’s own spirit and power. Of all the possible gifts one can receive in celebrating Christmas, the very greatest is that of living as a child of God and in the spirit and power of God, through faith in Jesus. What are ways that you both are, and are not, living in the reality of being a child of God?