A hundred years before Jesus was born, the expectation of a Messiah was building up. People were waiting. The idea of a messiah had been growing from the earliest times. Moses said, “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” Deuteronomy 18:15
In Samuel, we read, “The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.” (1Sa 2:10)
The word messiah refers to being anointed. By the time of the Babylonian exile, the great prophets were increasingly explicit about what they expected of the one to be anointed. The Messiah was to be a righteous king, even the ultimate king, bringing peace to Israel and to the whole world. He would save the people from harm, and he would redeem them; that is, he would give them a new status under God, under a new covenant, part of a new society, just and free, centre of world peace.
Around the time Jesus was born, the Jewish people were desperate under the cruel contemptuous heel of the Roman Empire. How they longed for the Messiah to come and set them free.
Over 400 years earlier, the Prophet Malachi announced that someone had to come before the Messiah, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me.”
How about Elijah? He was the greatest of the prophets. He worked miracles, raised the dead, and no one proclaimed God’s word more powerfully. He disappeared into the sky in a chariot of fire. Today we have just read Ben Sirach, “The prophet Elijah arose like a fire, his word flaring like a torch.”
Lots of people thought he might come back. Could he be the messenger introducing the Messiah?
Today Jesus says, “I tell you that Elijah has come already, and they did not recognise him.” Yes, for Jesus, John the Baptist was, in effect, Elijah. He had announced the arrival of Jesus the Messiah.
Joy to the world, He has come!
Jeff Foale is an Australian Passionist living in Vietnam, a former New Guinea missionary with a passion for service of the poor and refugees and who loves life in all its forms and enjoys photography.