and his word burned like a torch.
2 He brought a famine upon them,
and by his zeal he made them few in number.
3 By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens,
and also three times brought down fire.
4 How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
5 You raised a corpse from death
and from Hades, by the word of the Most High.
6 You sent kings down to destruction,
and famous men, from their sickbeds.
7 You heard rebuke at Sinai
and judgements of vengeance at Horeb.
8 You anointed kings to inflict retribution,
and prophets to succeed you.*
9 You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with horses of fire.
10 At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined*
to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the hearts of parents to their children,
and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
11 Happy are those who saw you
and were adorned* with your love!
For we also shall surely live.* - Sirach 48:1-11
We don't hear a lot from the book of Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus, during the church year. It is considered a wisdom book, but is not canonical which means it is not approved for doctrinal teachings. As a wisdom book, however, we gain insight which is never a bad thing.
Sirach is discussing the prophet Elijah. Elijah was one of the most prominent and revered prophets in all of the Hebrew Bible. Elijah was a miracle man as well as being a powerful prophet. Sirach records some of his greatest deeds, like bringing down fire from heaven, raising the dead, and being taken up to heaven in a chariot in the midst of a whirlwind of fire. Talk about an exit! No one was there to see it except Elisha, who inherited Elijah's mantle, but it became legendary.
There's something else about Elijah: it was foretold that he would return to announce the arrival of the Messiah, and the Jews have been waiting for this event for millennia. They're still waiting, and still praying for Elijah's return. For Christians, John the Baptist is frequently given the role of Elijah as the forerunner of the Messiah. The celebration of Christmas commemorates the arrival of that Messiah, and Advent is the period of the preparation for the commemoration. It could be considered an Elijah season.
The thing that struck me about Sirach's passage was the assertion that, "At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined…" Like many of the prominent figures of the Bible, Elijah and others seem to be appointed to do certain things at certain times, all with the objective of correcting the Hebrew people when they were going wrong or when they had been punished. Prophets had the job of looking around, seeing what was wrong, and then telling the people what was needed to make things right. We hear this again and again as we go through the Hebrew Bible.
When someone does something remarkable, we often say that they were destined to do whatever it was. Mother Teresa was destined to work with the poor and draw attention to their plight. Rosa Parks may have been destined for that one moment when she said "No" when told to move to the back of the bus. Paul had an experience on the road that completely changed his vision of what his job was. He may have thought he was destined for one job, but found he had been going in exactly the wrong direction. Maybe some feel that they themselves were destined to do a particular kind of work or form of communication, and, it's possible that they have. Quite often, though, the prophets had a rough life and suffered much in the way of disbelief and scoffing. People didn't see the vision that the prophets had been given. For the most part, they still don't.
I wonder — what would my reaction be if I knew what it were that I was destined to do. I wonder how many others have ever asked themselves that and what they have done about it? It should be fairly easy to tell because fulfilling a destiny means some sort of action that makes the world a better place or even a single life a better one. Can I say I have ever done that? I don't know, but it makes me want to think a bit more about what I was put on this earth to do.
Seems like a pretty good question to ask this Advent.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, December 12, 2015.