25 June, 2012

Homily for Evensong - The Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist 2012

Malachi 4 - Matthew 11:2-19

Some time ago I got involved in a discussion with some college mates about the Jerusalem Temple. A few students couldn’t understand why the State of Israel has not yet rebuilt a Temple to Almighty God. Of course these colleagues of mine were not advocating the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, the Islamic shrine which stands on the place previously occupied by the Second Temple. Instead, they were candidly wandering why the Israeli government had not launched the construction of another temple on another spot, or in close proximity to the ancient Temple Mount. Unfortunately this discussion lacked a fundamental principle of Jewish belief.
Tonight’s prophecy from Malachi points us towards this belief. I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes (Malachi 4:4). 
According to this, the prophet Elijah will return to earth in the last days and will show the precise place where the Jerusalem Temple will be rebuilt; he will also be able to identify the descendants of the ancient priestly and levitical families, who alone are allowed to minister before God. Elijah would usher in a new age in which God will dwell again on earth with his people.
However, the New Testament gives another interpretation of this prophecy. Early Christians identified in John the Baptist the figure of a new Elijah. Indeed, Jesus himself thought of John as Elijah who is to come (Matthew 11:14).
John comes into the story of salvation at a time when people’s expectations of a Messiah are running high and God’s reign is confused with independence for Israel from the Roman Empire. John comes into the scene and, like the Elijah of Jewish beliefs, he is the only one able to identify both the new site for the Temple and the new priesthood to serve in it. He points towards these things; he identifies them, in Jesus Christ who is the new Temple and the new Priesthood.
We are all part of this new temple build on the foundation stone of Christ; we are all call to minister to God by sharing in the royal priesthood of Jesus. So, in some ways, John the Baptist, as the new Elijah was pointing towards us too when he recognised in Jesus the Messiah, the one anointed by God. In turn we are called to manifest with our lives the reign of God on earth.

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