Saturday of the Second Week of Advent
Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11
On their way down the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John asked Jesus about Elijah. Why must he return before the coming of the Messiah?
We ask the same question every year at this time. Why must we face John the Baptist – Elijah, if we have eyes of faith – before the coming of the Messiah, before Christmas?
Every year, John the Baptist, that high voltage prophet, skinny as cactus, bursts onto the Advent horizon. He blocks our way. He points the way. John blocks our expectations of a risk-free, sentimental notion of baby in a manger. He points the way to the true Messiah. He calls us to repentance, to metanoia, to change our lives, to go in a new direction, different than that of our culture.
The season is full of wrappings and trappings: baking special foods, hanging colorful lights, buying gifts at the mall, having the kids photographed with that man in the white beard, wearing a bright red outfit with a shiny black belt. Are these activities important? Yes. There is nothing wrong with all that.
Nevertheless, this unpleasant-looking prophet reminds us that this is secondary stuff. It is time to prepare our souls, our lives for the Coming. In light of eternity, nothing else matters. It is time to enter into the wilderness, that place where we are stripped of all distractions, all trappings, where, in the silence, the holy waiting, we encounter God.
So why must Elijah return before the coming of the Messiah? Unless we first accept and listen to the prophet at Advent time, we will be ill-prepared to welcome the Messiah.
It won’t be difficult to recognize John the Baptist. Like Elijah, he will be the one shouting in the wilderness, with scraggly beard, clothed in rough camel skin and a leather belt around his waist.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.