Sermon – Advent 2 – December 9, 2018
Malachi 2:17-3:7b ‘The Messenger of the Covenant’
CT: People often question God in the middle of evil, pain, and sorrow in the world, and God’s answer is that He has come and dealt rightly for us and is coming again.
Intro: So often evil seems to have the upper hand; good people suffer while the wicked prosper. Is God blind to what’s going on around us? Psalm 73 reads: “And they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?’ Behold these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” It’s what the prophets of old called wearying God with our words. It’s why books have been written like, ‘The Problem of Suffering’, or ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ Maybe you’ve had occasion to question God’s goodness? Four hundred years before Jesus’ birth Malachi said his people were wearying God; they accused God of not seeing or caring—of being unfair.
John the Baptist: Malachi’s name literally means, “my messenger.” His name is God’s response to the people’s accusations, and to our doubts and concerns as he spoke God’s words. “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me” tell us that this is God speaking, making preparations for His coming. These words echo what Isaiah said: “A voice cries; ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3) While there is a word play on Malachi’s name, God is not referring to Malachi or Isaiah. Yes both are God’s messengers or prophets, but John the Baptist is the fulfillment of these words. Luther referred to John the Baptist as ‘the genuine Malachi’. After 400 years of silence, which would seem that God had forgotten about His people, the word of the God came to John in the wilderness. But it wasn’t quite the messenger or message that people expected or wanted to hear; it’s a message we too have trouble listening to. John came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; a message that seems far removed from our Christmas preparations. Who in their right mind greets people this time of year with, “You brood of vipers”…. Yet every Gospel writer includes John as if we can’t meet Jesus without him. If we really want to look in the manger this year—to know God’s love given to us in Bethlehem; John says we need to know why He’s there—why He came.
Sudden: And John’s message is simply to get ready and don’t let God’s answer catch you by surprise, for “even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.” There is urgency in John’s message. The second aspect of Jesus’ coming is that He is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. What of those around you who do not believe? Yet the God we so often question is patient with us, sending His messengers to remind us that He sees everything, knows your every tear and feels every hurt. No sin or wrong is hidden, but He has and is working on your behalf as He urges you and me to take refuge in the shelter of His love and forgiveness; under the wings of His grace. For God has and is acting in our world, bearing down on the very root cause of all that is wrong in the world and in your lives; sin. The advent, the coming of our Lord is certain. Malachi’s message urged the hearers not to be caught off guard for “the Lord whom you seek (the One you so often doubt and question) will suddenly come to His temple.” And not just in reference to the Baby in the manger, but also to the Christ coming in glory; the advent we wait for.
Repentance: That God would see the need to send a messenger to prepare the way for His coming implied that the nation in its existing moral condition was not yet prepared to receive Him, and therefore had no ground to weary God with their murmuring over His delay in coming to make things fair and right. Thinking of what’s fair, should we not rather murmur at our own sins and estrangement from God. For “who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears?”
Can you see God’s loving kindness and understand why He tarries to return in glory? It’s as Peter wrote in his 2nd letter: “He is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” If Christmas this year is really about the birth of Jesus; the coming of the Lord into this world and into your lives, then we need to take an honest look at ourselves; the ways we fall short of loving our neighbours, the times we’ve sidelined God, found worship and prayer too hard to fit into our busy lives, the way our pride has put us above others or made us insensitive to the hurts of others, not to mention the attitudes that judge others and build up walls of resentment. Never mind what 9 out of 10 Canadians think, or what I think will make me happy; look to what God commands that Malachi’s words might wake us up from our denial. Repentance is faith’s work in your hearts made possible by the second messenger promised in Malachi’s words; the One John the Baptist pointed to: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
New Covenant: The ‘messenger of the covenant’, in whom all people inwardly and often unknowingly desire has come. We desire Him for all people to some degree sense and feel the unfairness of this world. Malachi announced that the Lord of hosts has made His coming certain. Yes, this is Christmas; the birth of the Christ! Jesus is The Messenger of the Covenant; the new covenant in His Blood. As Jesus said on the night in which He was betrayed: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28) It’s the new covenant Jeremiah told of where God would put His Word in your hearts that He would be your God and you would be His people; that you would know the Lord for He will forgive your iniquity and remember your sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:31ff)
Refiner’s Fire: Jesus is the Refiner’s Fire and the Fuller’s Soap. He is God’s promised Messenger of the Covenant to cleanse you and purify you from all your sins. Yes to purify you as Levites—priests, “to be chosen race, a royal priesthood…to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) God has sealed His covenant with you in the waters of your Baptism where He gave you all the riches Christ won for you on the cross. Your own bodies are now the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit that your whole person would become a living sacrifice to God, transformed in your thinking by God’s miraculous gift of saving faith. (cf Rom 12:1-2)
Malachi’s words tell us that the Messenger of the Covenant will not fail, and indeed Jesus’ death and resurrection bear witness to God’s faithfulness to His new covenant with us; you are forgiven, death has no hold on those who believe, and the devil is retrained and indeed defeated. God does not change, therefore when suddenly Jesus returns in glory you will not be consumed, but will stand changed; purified by the Refiner’s fire; a forgiven child of God. Thanks be to God!