Third Tuesday of Advent (Year B)
Advent Meditation by Nicholas Birns
Psalm 125 inspires us with its confidence. “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.” But Mount Zion is a geological fact, whereas the company of those who trust in the Lord is, because human, fragile and perishable. Moreover, all of us die. How then can our faith endure so that our trust in the Lord can be vindicated? 2 Kings gives the answer, or at least the foretaste of an answer. When Elijah is raised to heaven and bestows his prophetic mantle to Elijah, there is a succession of the spirit, what Christians would call an apostolic succession. “And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha.” This is different from the sessions we have seen earlier in Israel. In the tune of the Judges, the most effective leader came forward in a time of crisis, but there was no sense of spiritual transfer or even continuity. The Aaronide priesthood and the Davidic monarchy passed from father to son in a fashion and mode little different from the way things were done in other ancient Near Eastern polities. In any event, as the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke make clear, from a Christian perspective both kingly and priestly genealogies are fulfilled in Jesus. Apostolic succession, the handing-on of that saving trust in the Lord by the human and vulnerable, is something different.
The stories of Elijah and Elisha—especially as read from the lectern in Grace Church—remind me more of the New Testament than any other part of the Old Testament. They are not ‘historical,’ by which I am not saying that they did not actually happen, but that their emphasis is not on kings, politics, wars, battles, and the other stuff usually assumed to make up history. The two prophets certainly their stake and personal view of the political morality of the rulers of Israel and its neighbors. Yet for the most part care for everyday people with everyday problems, hunger, sickness, and even, in the case of Naboth, real estate disputes. Thee is an intimacy to many of these stories which remind us of the miracles of Jesus in their channeling of spiritual power to lift up people dealing with the routine afflictions of ordinary life.
As bereft and bewildered as the still-young Elisha is when his teacher and mentor Elijah is lifted up to the heavens and out of his reach, it is far exceeded by what Peter and his fellow apostles feel after the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, His seeming death, and the convulsive effects of his unexpected and glorious resurrection. The apostles realize that, as flawed and overmatched as they are, they must take up the cause of the Spirit, even if that meant facing the same enemies and malefactors who had apparently triumphed over the Son of God himself. The faith of the apostles, which persisted against the most unlikely of odds, has, through many generations, been handed on to us today. It is because of their courage that we are able to trust in the Lord, and that our faith is truly as strong as the stones of Mount Zion.