an Advent Reflection for Sunday, December 4
Malachi is the last prophet through whom God speaks to the people of Israel before the time of John the Baptist and Jesus. He serves 100 years after the rebuilding of Jerusalem post Babylonian exile around 430 B.C. The Israelites had returned from 50 years in exile in 538 and rebuilt the Temple starting in around 536. In the 100 years since the return the people had become complacent about their relationship with God. The Temple had been important enough to call the people to return and rebuild the city, but according the word of God through the prophet Malachi, the priests have shown contempt for God by offering blemished, blind and diseased animals for sacrifice; by failing to bring the whole tithe; and by turning from the ways of God to the ways of men and the law. While God has kept up God’s part of the covenant, the people of God have allowed greed, wealth, and self-indulgence places ahead of God in their lives. Instead of offering God their first fruits, their best energy, and the undivided attention, the people of God are distracted and only marginally attentive everywhere but in the Temple in front of others. This is the context in which Malachi is called to preach the word of God. His job is to obediently speak the word God is sending in ways that capture the attention of the less than faithful people of Judah. A big job indeed, but one Malachi accepts as he speaks of the weak faith and diluted resolve of the people of God.
In the third chapter of Malachi’s prophecy, he speaks of the coming of a messenger who will prepare the way before God makes a sudden arrival in the Temple of Jerusalem. The Messiah will suddenly arrive, but in order to prepare the hearts and minds of those to whom the Messiah is coming, God is providing a messenger, a sentry, someone who will get the attention of the audience.
In the early 1990’s Roschenne and I were listening to a new kind of country music. Country was leaning away from the twangy, “blue-grassy” sounds I had associated with country music toward the folk and classic rock and roll sounds of the 60’s and 70’s pop music. Together with some of our friends from college, we were caught up in the sounds of Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Brooks and Dunn and the like. One year, I think for my birthday, Roschenne got us tickets to see Vince Gill here in Battle Creek at the Kellogg Arena. I still remember the concert well. Vince Gill is still a talent I appreciate. But that night we were introduced to an artist that literally stole the show for us. Pam Tillis, took the stage that night with such energy, such command and such excitement that when Vince Gill came on it was almost a letdown. Pam had been raised in the business, the daughter of Mel Tillis. She could flat play that electric blue acoustic guitar she was wearing and she lit up the crowd with songs like Maybe It was Memphis, Shake the Sugar Tree, and Mi Vida Loca. It was a GREAT concert, maybe some of you were there?
The point of this is that Pam Tillis had a job to do. The job of an opening act is to get the audience’s attention, to bring the energy of the room up so that when the headliner takes the stage the folks are already tuned in. As Ms. Tillis gave way to Vince Gill the audience was not only ready to receive that which Vince had to offer, they were providing energy in the room off which the headliner could feed. Pam Tillis may have even done her job a little too well as we left talking more about her than we did about Vince.
In some ways, this is the same kind of work Malachi’s messenger would do. John the Baptist is this messenger. Born just a few months prior to Jesus and Jesus’ first cousin, John is an important part of the story Malachi begins to tell for God. John’s job is to get the attention of the people, to prophecy about the coming Messiah. He was baptizing people in the Jordan for the forgiveness of sins and the for repentance. Yet John understood his place in God’s story. He knew Jesus was the Christ and that his job was to prepare the way in the desert, to make straight the highway for God. When Jesus arrives on the scene of his own baptism there is already a crowd formed; a crowd of people who knew that something about their lives weren’t quite right; a crowd ready for change.
Malachi tells of the messenger who will come before the Messiah and the stories of Elizabeth and Zechariah, and John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel tell the stories that fulfill this part of the messianic prophecy.
With the love, hope, peace and joy of the season,
Pastor Chad Parmalee