Yesterday was my son’s birthday. He is eight. This day causes me to pause from thinking about youth ministry to reflect on fatherhood instead. My son’s name is Elijah Gabriel. I chose the name Elijah after taking Mark Throntveit’s Elijah/Elisha class at Luther Seminary. I chose the name Gabriel after having read The Giver the day before he was born. We chose his names because they were meaningful, but little did we know how meaningful they’d become and little did I know how much I would learn about faith from Elijah and the biblical stories that bear his names.
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’* 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* 35The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
It wasn’t until a few days after Elijah was born that we realized he was born on the Feast of the Annunciation – the day the angel Gabriel visits Mary. He loves to hear this story read in worship because he loves to hear his middle name read out loud. I love to hear it because I am always struck by the word “overshadow” in verse 35. I’m not a big fan of being overshadowed but it seems to be quite the blessing in this text. Because Mary is overshadowed, the child to be born will be holy and will be called Son of God. Maybe it is a blessing to be overshadowed.
1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I* will make three dwellings* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved;* with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (Matthew 17:1-8)
Elijah also likes when this story of the transfiguration is read in church, allowing him to hear his first name. I love to hear it because it calls me into the shadow once again. In verse 5 we see the same word from the annunciation – overshadowed (it is the same Greek word – episkiazo). Again, it seems to be a blessing to be overshadowed. I’ll explain why.
14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15and said, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.’ 17Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’ 18And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. 19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ 20He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a* mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’ (Matthew 17:14-20)
Peter wanted to stay on the mountain. It was a good place. But Jesus doesn’t remain on the mountain. He returns to the valley. When he returns he encounters the father of a boy with epilepsy and Jesus heals the boy. My son, Elijah, has epilepsy. I am this father. I stand at the foot of the mountain wondering what the hell is taking so long. I am furious with Peter for wanting to stay on the mountain and hoard the glory of Christ. I need Christ here in the valley to heal my son!
There is something holy about being overshadowed. It changes our expectations. It opens our eyes, our ears, our hearts. It causes anger and fear and frustration, but it also makes room for Christ to work.
Mary, in the presence of Gabriel, is overshadowed and becomes the God-bearer. Peter, in the presence of Elijah, is overshadowed and Christ heals the child with epilepsy. I, in the presence of Elijah Gabriel, am overshadowed. My expectations of myself as a father, my expectations of Elijah as a son have all be overshadowed at times by fear and doubt and anger.
Becoming a parent is to come face to face with your own powerlessness. Becoming the parent of a child with some special needs only amplifies this sense of powerlessness. Today I celebrate by son, his 8 years and joy that he brings into the lives of those who know him. I know what it is like to wait at the foot of the mountain praying for the hope that only comes under the shadow – loving my boy with my whole self while I wait.