In this text Malachi speaks of a “messenger” of YHWH who is sent to “prepare the way.” This immediately brings our minds to John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Christ. The “messenger” of Malachi 3 is described as a “refiner” of gold and silver and as a “fuller’s soap.” In particular the messenger will refine the house of Levi (the priesthood) so that their offering to the Lord will be acceptable again.
Our psalm is not a Psalm! This week the lectionary uses the “benedictus” of Zechariah for our Psalm response to the Hebrew bible lection. The benedictus praises God as one who “looks with favor on his people.” Zechariah declares that God has kept his promises that he gave through the mouths of the prophets by sending a redeemer to God’s people. Zechariah then addresses his child John, and says to him, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” Here we see the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy.
“I thank my God every time I remember you.” That is a heartwarming compliment, and that is how Paul begins his letter to the Philippian church that he loves and cherishes. Paul encourages the Phillipians (from his state of incarceration no less!) by telling them that the God who began a “good work” in them will certainly see it through to completion before the “day of Jesus Christ.” This encouragement is fitting for our Advent season since we live and worship by a similar hope. The sanctification begun in every one of us is on its way to completion as we wait the second Advent of our Lord and savior.
When Luke gives the story of the preaching of John the Baptist he starts BIG (really BIG) by mentioning that these things happened during the reign of the current Roman emperor (Tiberias). He then takes us on a rapid descent down the funnel of power, with each step getting more local to the preaching of John–Pontus Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius, Annas, and Caiphas. All of these leaders were men of power and ability. Yet the Word of the Lord came to none of them, instead it found its way into the wilderness and entered a camel haired social outcast who ate locusts and honey. Beyond that we read in this list of powerful officials two people who will later come into the gospel story as villians–one will cut the head off John the Baptist, and the other will preside over the death of Jesus. But
perhaps most significantly we feel the chiastic structure of the counter-intuitive gospel–all the power of the Roman empire is bypassed on its way to Galilee and the manger, and then from the manger all the power of God will go out to all the Roman empire.
Celebration of Worship
Here comes the one preparing the way! What does that mean for the church? This one is not like you and me–he is from the wilderness, he does not sit in a seat of power, his life is unadorned with fine things, he comes preaching repentance and water baptism. Today we worship in light of God’s fulfilled promise given through the mouth of the prophet Malachi. At the same time we recognize that God first sent a messenger because the world was in need of one to “prepare the way.” This messenger is like a refining fire. So this Sunday in worship we consider what it is that needs to be refined out of us. In
a BIG world of power, how does the word of God come to us from the margins preaching our needed repentance?