It is hard to imagine that the season of Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Even as we prepare for our Thanksgiving celebrations next week, pastors all over the place are starting to write their first of four advent sermons. Advent is the season of preparation for the “advent” of Christ on earth, and we mark it off by lighting candles in our churches that remind us of the hope, peace, joy, and love that he came to bring. And we always begin by listening to the messengers. The prophets of the Old Testament wrote about a much-needed messiah who would come to save their people. Their prophesies set the stage for Jesus. Listen to Malachi’s words about a messenger who would come to announce the arrival of the savior:
Malachi 3:1-4 (Common English Bible)
Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me; suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming, says the Lord of heavenly forces. 2 Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can withstand his appearance. He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver. He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. They will belong to the Lord, presenting a righteous offering. 4 The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in ancient days and in former years.
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and was written to address the religious, spiritual, and moral laxity that had overtaken the Israelites. The people had returned from their Babylonian exile seventy years prior, and the temple had been rebuilt. But they had fallen into laziness and cynicism about their relationship with God. Their disaffection led them to bring “polluted offerings” to the temple, breaking the covenant law about first fruits, which required that only the finest and unblemished offerings be presented. (Malachi 1:7). Malachi speaks directly to their powerless worship and warns that judgment is coming.
It was always the mission of the prophets to bring God’s message of God’s covenant relationship to the people and the expectations that came with it. God established a covenant through Abraham, reinforced it through Joseph, and defined it through Moses. The covenant promise continued through the major and minor prophets and always carried both warnings and hope. Their work involved warning against social injustice and the worldly powers that oppressed God’s people, but it also included words of hope about their future deliverance and a peace that would last. The prophetical writings breathed hope into humanity’s present condition, regardless of the century they were written. Malachi warned that in order for a righteous offering to be presented, a cleansing fire will occur first, beginning with the slack priests (the Levites) who should have been leading the people in true worship.
We see Malachi’s prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, who came and will come again to do the final and ultimate refining. Those who repent and believe in him will never perish, but will become a righteous and pleasing offering to God through the unblemished First Fruit of the Son. (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Only in this way can any of us endure the day of his coming. Sound scary? Hang on … hope is also coming. John the Baptizer, the messenger chosen to clear the way for Jesus, shows us the way: repent, for the kingdom is at hand.
When we begin looking toward Advent with a call to repent, it sounds as thought we have confused the season and are jumping to Lent. But the call to repentance is season-less. Malachi reminds us that a refiner’s fire is coming and we need to be ready.
As we make ourselves ready next week for great Thanksgiving feasts, football games, and the start of Christmas preparations, let us not neglect to make our hearts ready as well. “Suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple”, says Malachi. Let us make the temples of our souls ready and waiting.