Today’s Gospel is just after the Transfiguration, an experience of Our Lord on the mountain where the disciples caught of glimpse of his divinity and glory and saw Elijah and Moses at his side, representing the prophets and the the Law that testified to him. This experience confirmed their faith that Jesus was the Messiah, but also raised a question: in the Old Testament it was foretold that Elijah, one of the greatest prophets who was taken up into Heaven on a fiery chariot at the end of his mission, would return before the coming of the Lord. This thought captivated the imagination of the Jews (see Malachi 4:-56 and today’s First Reading, Sirach 48:1ff.), so they were on the lookout for a great prophet before the Messiah came, and some thought Jesus was that prophet when he began his public ministry.
Our Lord helps the disciples understand that the sign of the coming of the Lord they were expecting had already happened: John the Baptist was the prophet who announced the immediate arrival of the Lord (see Luke 1:16–17). He was the greatest prophet because he was the last prophet: on his watch the Lord came, and he rejoiced at that, even in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. Advent is an Elijah moment in this sense. John the Baptist is a little baby, but that little baby points to the little baby about to be born on Christmas, just as he rejoiced at his presence in his mother’s womb.
We already know the story that is playing out each Advent and Christmas. Let’s also rejoice, like John the Baptist, that the Lord is coming soon.
Readings: Sirach 48:1–4, 9–11; Psalm 80:2ac, 3b, 15–16, 18–19; Matthew 17:9a, 10–13.