December 6, 2009

Baruch 5:1-9 – Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.
Malachi 3:1-4 – See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.

Luke 1:68-79 – Zechariah. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

Philippians 1:3-11 – I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Luke 3:1-6 – John the Baptist: As written in the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”


See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

The Messenger

I must admit, I have never quite gotten used to the recent use of “See” for הִנֵּה instead of “Behold.” I get that no one uses “behold” or “lo” anymore. But, “see” lacks the gravitas of a divine pronouncement. What would we say today? Here are some of the ways NASB translates it: after all (1), behold (938), go (1), here (41), how (5), if (18), if he sees (1), if the has indeed (1), indeed (11), lo (16), look (3), now (3), now (1), see (4), surely (2), there (2), unless (1). I suppose in Texas, a divine oracle might say, “Look here, y’all!” or “See here!” but I can’t bring myself to do that, so I’m sticking with “Behold!”

YHWH is returning to the Temple. This is a post-exilic text. The people have returned, and the Temple has been rebuilt. Already there are problems, like before. The people are worshipping foreign gods and the priests are misconducting themselves, again. YHWH is going to come and purify the priests, the sons of Levi.

YHWH is sending a messenger in advance. The word for messenger is malach, מַלְאָך. Malach means “messenger,” “ambassador,” “envoy” or even “angel.” So Malachi, the title of the book, means messenger. It is likely that the author is referring to himself.

People often pray for God to come, but they don’t know what they are asking for. Do we really want this? We think God will come to give our enemies their comeuppance. It often doesn’t occur to us, that we ourselves might be the targets of divine judgment. When God comes, who can stand? Who can endure the day of God’s coming? If we are washed thoroughly with fullers soap so that all our dirt is washed away, what will be left? I once had a car that I was afraid to wash, because the rust and dirt seemed to be holding it together.

Although the messenger the author refers to is probably himself, sacred texts often have much to say about current events. In Jesus’ day, the Roman occupation was understood as God’s judgment, and the religious establishment was considered corrupt by many. These texts rang true, and the people looked for messengers to purify the religious structures of the day.

For the followers of Jesus, John the Baptist is the messenger, announcing God’s coming in Jesus of Nazareth. John’s scathing critique of both Temple and Government (church and state) earn him the reward of many prophets: martyrdom.

What kind of reform do we need today? Can we not admit that our own religious structures are under the power of sin? As churches of the Reformation, can we not acknowledge that the church is always in need of reform, as the saying goes: Ecclesia semper reformanda: “the church is always to be reformed”, a phrase used by Karl Barth in 1947, deriving from a saying of St. Augustine.

Perhaps the preacher can engage these questions of gods and corruption prophetically. What gods do we worship? Can we name them? Money? Country? Status? Power? Are we willing to take the ire that sometimes comes when we name these gods? Can we name the places in our congregations, synods and denominations where we need reform? Where are we in bondage to tradition? Where are we in bondage to novelty? Racism? Sexism? Classicism? Do we value our buildings more than our ministry, or the people around us? When does survival of our congregation become a god? Survival to what end?

Does God still send messengers today? Who might they be? Who speaks with the refiner’s fire? Who announces Christ’s coming reign of justice and peace, where the swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into purifying hooks, where the valleys are lifted and the hills brought down to a level playing field, where death is destroyed forever and the tears wiped from all faces?

What stories of messengers can you tell? Who brought you a word of the Lord that you needed to hear, even if you didn’t want to hear it at the time? How can we make space for such messengers in our lives and communities?

Malachi is the messenger.