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There is something paradoxical about the Old Testament prophets. They are those who have seen and preached the promises of God’s covenant and yet, at the same time, they are also those blessed souls who have not seen and yet believe. They had inklings of the fulfillment of God’s promise in the coming of His Son, which they prophesied, but they did not know the Christ Child who is revealed in the manger in Bethlehem. The fulness of revelation in the person of Jesus Christ still lay in the future. It is in this sense that C. S. Lewis likens the pagans of pre-Christian times to virgins awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom. Although the prophets were Jews and not pagans, they were also awaiting the coming of the same Bridegroom who would bring salvation to Jew and gentile alike.
It is in this foreshadowing light that we should see the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
In the First and Second Book of Kings, we learn how Elijah and Elisha gave witness to God in times which were at least as dark as ours. They lived in the reign of wicked and worldly rulers, such as Ahab and Ahaziah, in which corruption prevailed and in which the worship of idols and false gods was widespread. In such a culture, it took great faith and courage to counter the culture of death with the culture of life.
Elijah and Elisha gained strength and comfort from the God whom they worshipped but also from their deep love and friendship for each other. Having witnessed to the presence of the Lord through the power of prophecy and the potency of miracles, they were finally separated when Elijah was assumed bodily into heaven. Although Elisha would not be granted such a miraculous death, God blessed him with a miraculous life in which he would perform even more miracles than Elijah, his mentor.
As for Elijah himself, we are told in the first of today’s readings that his words “were as a flaming furnace” and his deeds were “wondrous.” It is no wonder that Jesus, in today’s Gospel, equates the witness of Elijah to that of St. John the Baptist, both of whom paved the way for the coming of Christ Himself.
Jesus likened Elijah to Saint John the Baptist as he and his disciples “were coming down from the mountain.” This was Mount Tabor, at the summit of which the disciples had just seen the appearance of Elijah, in the company of Moses, in the presence of the Transfigured Christ.
Elijah’s whole life before the birth of Christ was a pilgrimage towards the manger, filled with the hope of seeing the face of the living God: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”
[The Aleteia community is joining the journey of an Old Testament pilgrim each day this Advent, as they lead us to the Christ Child in this holy season. Find the daily reflections here.]