Clearing the Path

There is a farm in Pennsylvania that sits on 16 acres of beautiful hills and open fields. A creek runs through it, and when you climb to the highest point of the property you can see miles and miles of pastoral farmland in every direction. When my husband’s grandmother was alive, we would visit this place on weekends when we were in college and hike a well-groomed path through patches of trees and blackberry bushes to glimpse the vista.

His grandfather had carefully laid out the path many decades before, taking advantage of the natural topography so that the walker would experience the best parts of the land. The path was maintained every spring with mowing and clearing so that when you walked it, you were safe and protected. When you emerged from the trees to the open fields, all of God’s beauty was spread out before you.

Throughout Biblical history, God has been clearing out paths between us and heaven itself. God’s word, will, prophecies, and plans are all designed to lead us from the darkness of sin and death to new life through Christ. God carefully designs and grooms the way to salvation in a clearly defined path. Are we wise enough to follow?

Our scripture today comes from the book of Malachi. According to Britannica.com, Malachi was written to address the impending day of judgment in an effort to prepare the nation for what was to come:

The book consists of six distinct sections, each in the form of a question-and-answer discussion. With the aid of this unusual discussion technique, the prophet defends the justice of God to a community that had begun to doubt that justice because its eschatological (end of the world) expectations were still unfulfilled. The author calls for fidelity to Yahweh’s covenant. He emphasizes the necessity of proper worship, condemns divorce, and announces that the day of judgment is imminent. Faithfulness to these ritual and moral responsibilities will be rewarded; unfaithfulness will bring a curse.

When you read this, look for how God is clearing a path for the people to follow:

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.

It was always the mission of the Old and New Testament prophets to bring God’s message of covenant and reversal. God established a covenant through Abraham, reinforced it through Joseph, and defined it through Moses. The covenant promise continues through the major and minor prophets and always carries both warnings and hope. New life will happen, but a cleansing must occur first. We know that in a reversal of their expectations, God sent Jesus.

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.
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.

We see this prophecy fulfilled in the form of Jesus, who was sent to do the final and ultimate refining. Those who repent and believe in him will never perish, but will have eternal life. They will become a righteous and pleasing offering to the Lord. Only in this way can any of us endure the day of his coming. Sounds scary, yes? But hang on….the hope is coming.

The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
        as in ancient days and in former years.

God’s covenant with Judah and Jerusalem will be fulfilled in the second coming of Christ. We can count on it! The ancient relationship between God and God’s people will come full circle when Jesus returns to claim us. What we need to do in the meantime is submit to the refining process.

Where is God trying to refine you right now? What hot, cleansing fire are you in? Is he trying to purge impurities out of your life so that you will be ready for a blessing?

Pay attention. You belong to the Lord. God has cleared out this path so that you are safe and protected as you follow his ways…you have nothing to fear.

Liquid Gold by Michelle Robertson

Remnant Theology

Someone long ago planted a group of jonquils in front of my mailbox. It predates my arrival here, which happened eleven years ago. Every spring they pop up with their cheerful faces and strong pronouncement that winter is over and we can turn our faces toward summer. This gift of foresight on someone else’s part is always welcome. For most of the year, that patch of ground is empty and desolate. My neighbor once told me that the entire mailbox was once ringed with jonquils. Now only this one patch remains, and I am grateful.

In reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, we encounter something known as “remnant theology.” This describes God’s practice of taking a land, a society, or a whole nation down to almost nothing and then restoring a small percentage back after a period of desolation. Think of Noah’s family after the flood…it was up to them to replenish and repopulate the world when they finally came upon dry land. They were God’s remnant.

In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, we see God preparing Isaiah to speak a word of doom into a hopeless situation. The nation had fallen hard into apostasy, and their impending disaster was upon them. Isaiah was called to preach to a group of people who were too calloused and hard-headed to hear him, and the length of his service would be determined by how long it would take for them to turn with their hearts and seek God’s healing:

Isaiah 6 (Common English Bible)

God said, “Go and say to this people:

Listen intently, but don’t understand;
    look carefully, but don’t comprehend.
10 Make the minds of this people dull.
    Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind,
    so they can’t see with their eyes
    or hear with their ears,
    or understand with their minds,
    and turn, and be healed.”

But even in the midst of this proclamation, God offers the hope of a remnant that would provide a holy seed for the rebuilding of Israel.

11 I said, “How long, Lord?”

And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.” 12 The Lord will send the people far away, and the land will be completely abandoned. 13 Even if one-tenth remain there, they will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, which when it is cut down leaves a stump. Its stump is a holy seed.

The dichotomy of a God who destroys and a God who restores is striking. His mercy is always balanced with his judgment, and remnant theology teaches us that mercy always prevails, thanks be to God! God always leaves behind a holy seed.

If you are in a season of desolation and judgment, remember Isaiah. In the beginning of this passage, he declares that seeing God seated on the throne surrounded by flying seraphs had rendered him “undone.” Sometimes it takes a holy undoing before we can be restored to what we were are meant to be…holy, cleansed, called, and redeemed.

Gold Daffodils by Jan Wilson

Prophetic

When we think of what a prophet does, most of us have an understanding that a prophet speaks accurately about what will happen in the future. We read the Old Testament prophets who talked about a coming Messiah that would bring “healing in his wings,” and we see that prophecy fulfilled in Jesus.

But prophets don’t just speak of future things, they speak for God in the present reality. They are both “foretelling” and “forth-telling.” Neither job is easy. Everyone has an opinion. When a forth-telling prophet speaks an unpopular opinion, the arrows fly and the doors of understanding shut tight. “If I want your opinion I would have asked for it” is often what prophets hear.

Way back in Deuteronomy, a prophet was promised. This is interesting, as we usually associate Deuteronomy with the giving of the Law. This little nugget stands out as a shining promise to people who had lost the ability to hear God. Moses is reassuring them that God still listens. God still cares. God still speaks.

Deuteronomy 18 (The Message)

15-16 God, your God, is going to raise up a prophet for you. God will raise him up from among your kinsmen, a prophet like me. Listen obediently to him. This is what you asked God, your God, for at Horeb on the day you were all gathered at the mountain and said, “We can’t hear any more from God, our God; we can’t stand seeing any more fire. We’ll die!”

It is fascinating to see this early hint at the incarnation. God will raise up the prophet from “among your kinsmen, a prophet like me [Moses.]” This prophet will come from one of the tribes of Israel, and will act as an intercessor-reconciler between the people and the fiery presence of God.

17-19 And God said to me, “They’re right; they’ve spoken the truth. I’ll raise up for them a prophet like you from their kinsmen. I’ll tell him what to say and he will pass on to them everything I command him. And anyone who won’t listen to my words spoken by him, I will personally hold responsible.

Here we clearly see a foretelling of Jesus. This prophet will be an Israelite, a kinsman-redeemer, and a vessel for the word of God….because he is the Word of God.

20 “But any prophet who fakes it, who claims to speak in my name something I haven’t commanded him to say, or speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die.

God isn’t messing around. Fake prophets, anyone who says things that are NOT from God, and those who speak in the name of other gods (such as the modern trend of attributing power to “The Universe”) will be dealt with severely.

When prophets rise up who both foretell and tell forth the message of God, we would do well to listen obediently. God still speaks to us today.

Follow God’s Voice by Connie Outten

The Miraculous, Glorious Absurdity

Isaiah 9

2 The people walking in darkness

    have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

    a light has dawned.

3 You have enlarged the nation

    and increased their joy;

they rejoice before you

    as people rejoice at the harvest.

Of all the Old Testament prophets who pointed to the coming of the Messiah, I love the words of Isaiah the best. Did you know that Jesus quoted from Isaiah more that any other prophet? Jesus was the fulfillment of all of the prophecies, and Isaiah apparently says it best.

One of the Advent traditions that many churches observe is called the Festival of Lessons and Carols. It tells the entire story from start to finish of how the Messiah came, and why he was necessary. While it relies on several Isaiah passages, it doesn’t start there. Surprised?

It starts with Genesis. From the beginning of time, we needed a Savior. With the first sin in the garden, humanity necessitated a saving from ifself, as it were. We see throughout the entire Old Testament that the sacrificial system offered by God in order to redeem us failed again and again.

Then came Jesus, the fulfillment of every promise and the hope of every heart. Jesus is the end-all-be-all of sacrificial lambs. He took the sins of the world upon himself and we are forever reconciled with God through Jesus’ saving death that brings eternal life.

And thus the need for the incarnation. The incarnation is understood as “God becoming flesh.” God, in his omniscience, realized that we would need a Savior that we could relate to. He chose to come to earth in the form of an infant, so that he would walk, talk, suffer, feel anger, experience temptation, know hunger and fatigue, and be relatable.

John 1

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I think the whole notion is a glorious and miraculous absurdity, and one that demonstrates God’s love beyond a doubt. That the God who created the universe would lower himself to such a humble place blows my mind. Born in dirt, cradled in straw, homeless and cold, God came, and dwelt among us. Isn’t that absurd? 

This morning I recalled a wonderful young female pastor named Alice who preached at my Annual Conference many years ago. I sat in my seat, spellbound. I had not done much preaching up to that point, and I had modeled my style after my colleagues, who were all male. When I heard Alice preach, I was stunned. She preached like a girl. She was relatable, humorous, genuine, and authentic. I never preached like a man after that. Her example helped me preach from my own voice, and it changed me forever.

The reason God came as a baby was so that he could experience the world he created, and thus be an authentic guide, a relatable savior, and a credible witness. Jesus is the real deal. The stories of his life on earth are stories we can put ourselves directly into. We can feel what he felt, see what he saw, and walk where he walked. As absurd as it was, it was the only way to save us.

God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the greatest gift you will receive on any Christmas. How will you respond? Where will you be a credible witness, and tell this story to someone who needs to hear it? How will you relate to Jesus today?

Go, and preach this in your own voice. Tell someone about the Messiah. Better yet, act it out in everything you say, think, and do. Be the light in the darkness of somebody’s Christmas, and rejoice.

Lights in the Darkness by Suzanne Wrenn