Saturday 16 December 2017
Advent Season of Creation
Ecclesiasticus 48:1-4, 9-11. Psalm 79(80):2-3, 15-16, 18-19. Matthew 17:10-13
Lord, make us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved – Psalm 79(80):2-3, 15-16, 18-19.
Lord, make us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved.
Jesus seems to have thought a great deal about his ancestry. We can all share the same interest. There have been programs on TV about celebrities discovering unusual things about their forebears. Even if the forebears have been dead for a long time, their stories still make people think about where they have come from. Most people enjoy climbing through the branches of their family tree. They remind us that we belong to more than just the here and now.
Jesus had a special connection with the Prophet Elijah, a wonderful figure whose story, like that of Abraham and Moses, has been a source of inspiration and energy for Jews, Christians and Moslems alike. During the transfiguration, Jesus appears in the present moment with Moses and Elijah. In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his followers are coming down from the mountain, getting ready to face a challenging future. In order to face that future, Jesus thinks about the lessons of the past. Elijah was treated badly. Jesus doesn’t expect any better.
Like all the prophets, Elijah had a powerful relationship with the natural environment. He appears as an ordinary man who was prepared to stand up against King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Elijah’s main concern was that Ahab and his unpleasant wife were trying to re-introduce old superstitions into the kingdom of Israel and return to the worship of the Baals; they wanted a religion they could own and control.
Jezebel is determined to kill Elijah in revenge so he shows a clean pair of heels; after a day on the run he is exhausted. Elijah is a person whose most intense encounters with God take place at the edge of what he can cope with. He reaches Beersheba, lies down under a furze bush and prays to God to let him die. We’ve all had days like this. We may not pray to die but we may well feel that we can hardly keep going. It is at that moment that God helps him find strength.
Elijah then walks forty days and forty nights and finally reaches Mt Horeb, the place where Moses had received the law on tablets. It is a central place in the story that sustains Elijah: he is a figure who calls empire builders back to the simple vision of a life built around God. Elijah’s vision on Mt Horeb is the counterpiece of the one Moses received. Moses was enlightened by a vision which embraced the entirety of human life. It had lots of fine print and it was nothing if not dramatic. In the same place, Elijah waits in a dark cave. A mighty wind passes by, then an earthquake and then a fire. God was not in any of these. Finally he experiences a gentle breeze and that’s where he recognises God. He is frightened and weary; God’s presence is a caress.