by Father Mike Stubbs
There are several different messengers who make deliveries to us: the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS.
We also receive messages by means of email, voicemail and snail mail. There are many ways in which someone can get the word to us. Similarly, God sends out many messengers.
In Sunday’s first reading, Mal 3:1-4, God promises: “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” Later on in the book of the prophet Malachi, that messenger is identified as the prophet Elijah: “Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet” (Mal 3:23).
We should remember that according to the Bible, the prophet Elijah did not die, but rather was assumed up into heaven:
“As they walked on conversing, a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kgs 2:11).
The strange manner of his departure meant that Elijah was available later on to return to the earth. That explains the promise made in the Book of Malachi — that God would send Elijah, the prophet.
Incidentally, the name “Malachi” means “my messenger” in Hebrew. It is not clear if the name for the book refers to the personal name of the prophet or to his role.
The early Christians identified John the Baptist as the messenger who prepared the way for the Messiah. That is why we hear in the Gospel of Matthew: “It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said, ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths’” (Mt 3:3).
They understood that the same spirit that had filled Elijah also filled John the Baptist.
They understood that this promise in the Book of Malachi was fulfilled in a spiritual sense in John the Baptist.
This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Presentation, when the newborn Messiah was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem.
After promising to send God’s messenger, the Book of Malachi adds the words: “And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.”
With the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, we see fulfilled this promise that God would enter the temple. Once he was grown up, Jesus’ arrival as the Messiah would be announced by John the Baptist.
Acting as God’s messenger, John the Baptist, filled with the spirit of Elijah, would prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry.
Didn’t John the baptist say he wasn’t Elijah? How can he be filled with the same spirit? This is a confusing concept.
Maybe he means the Holy Spirit.
In a really short explanation of how I interpret this apparent contradiction:
John was not Elijah – he was John the Baptist. That’s what he was named, that’s who he is. John can honestly say he is not Elijah. John’s role was to decrease Himself and increase Christ… I think his denial places the attention off of himself and onto Christ.
He was Elijah because he came in the spirit and power of Elijah. This is why Christ says… “If you believe… John is Elijah”. There is an aspect of faith… of the spiritual realm… of the non-physical world that reveals John as Elijah.
So John can both be NOT Elijah (in the physical sense) and can also BE Elijah (in the spirit and power of Elijah).