Friday, December 9, 2016

"ELIJAH HAS ALREADY COME."


Homily for December 10th, 2016: Matthew 17: 9a, 10-13.
          When the President comes to town, he rides in a bullet proof limousine (a sign of the violent and dangerous age in which we live). Preceding him are numerous policemen on motorcycles, and others in police cars. This almost military procession is more than is actually needed to protect the Chief Executive. It is done to prepare people for the one who is coming.
          Jesus’ people, the Jews, also expected that when the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah, came he too would be preceded by an entourage, including a prophet who would prepare the way for the Lord’s servant. The Old Testament speaks of this in a number of places, especially in the book of the prophet Malachi, who writes: “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 the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with doom” (3:23f).
          In the gospel reading we have just heard Matthew tells us that Jesus’ disciples recalled this tradition about Elijah coming. Where is he, they want to know? He has already come, Jesus replies. But people did not recognize him. In fact, they killed him. Then Matthew writes, “the disciples understood the [Jesus] was speaking to them of John the Baptist.”
          Mark’s gospel tells us that John’s message was twofold. He preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And he proclaimed One who was coming after him. He would be greater than John, baptizing not with water but with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:1-8). That is exactly what the gospels record. Though Jesus accepted baptism himself, there is no record of his ever baptizing anyone else. Instead, immediately after his resurrection, Jesus “breathed on [the disciples] and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound’” (John 20:22f. )
          Was that just in ancient times? Not at all. That is still happening today. Jesus is still breathing on us and giving us the Holy Spirit. And in the sacrament of penance or confession he is still forgiving our sins through the men, themselves sinners, whom he has empowered to do this in his name. I made my own confession just a week ago, knowing that it is the best possible preparation for Christmas. If you have not yet done that, I hope you will. Then you will be ready for the coming of your Savior and Lord, who is also your elder brother, your lover, and your best friend.