2 Advent, Year C
The Rev. Elizabeth A. B. Tesi
Canticle 4 or 16
In the 4th year of the Presidency of Obama, when Kitzhaber governed Oregon, Piercy governed Eugene, and Fortuna governed Saint Mary’s and Johnson conducted the tax census; during the high priesthood of Bingham, the word of God came to Amma Betsy, daughter of Robert and Kathleen, at her vintage restored secretary desk. She went into the region all about the South Hills, proclaiming peace, hope, and a coming of the Messiah to God’s people, as it is written in the book of the prophet Malachi, in the judgment oracle, “see I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me… say the Lord of hosts. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple, indeed he is coming.”
Today, our scripture is all about prophecy. Nothing about prophecy is certain or logical, and so, for once, we are forced to turn off our logical brains and to experience the art, the emotion, the feeling of an oracle. Today is a day of questions, of seeking. Today, in this season of Advent, we await, we wonder, we seek the coming Messiah.
In Malachi, we are dropped into the fourth of six oracles contained within the book. In fact, this oracle is known as the “judgment oracle”. We come into the middle of it. This section has continued an earlier train of thought, but the tone begins to shift from judgment to hope. Considering this season of waiting and tiny lights in the darkness, this strain of hope is well-timed.
Recognizing that God’s people might be feeling a little beleaguered from all sides, the prophet takes a slightly gentler tone. The Messiah is not coming to harass God’s people to death, and so the prophet wants to give us hope. All the terrible things, all the eternal judgments that we hear about, these won’t happen suddenly to a people unprepared and undeserving. This Messiah comes not to condemn his people, but to refine them, to make them into the very best version of themselves possible. The “Lord of Hosts” makes this promise himself. Note that the reading changes God’s name slightly throughout, gently turning the crystal of how we experience and see God. The Lord, the Lord of Hosts, the Lord in righteousness. The prophet wants to be sure that we understand that this promise comes from the top. God Godself sends the Messiah to come for our benefit and our joy.
The idea that the Being in charge of everything is the one taking care of us is a tremendously comforting notion for God’s people. I do enjoy the imagery of prophecy: because it is so artistic, it feels timeless. This messenger who is coming, he is like fire, and coarse, caustic fuller’s soap. He will refine us like gold and silver, melting away our impurities. We know from the textual evidence that this was written after the dedication of the second temple, when society had become complacent and comfortable enough that corruption had begun creeping around those comfortable corners. If the Messiah wasn’t imminently coming, then behavior didn’t matter as much.
Sound like any place we know?
Our society, in these United States, is comfortable. Of course, we can point our fingers at the poor and destitute in our society and remark that we are self-aware enough to know that we do have truly destitute people among our own society. We can point our fingers at corrupt corporate kings who make over 400 times the salary of their average worker and get rich off the pain of others to prove that we ourselves aren’t wealthy. But the reality is that we are residents of the United States, and that we are among the wealthiest people in the world. Our society too suffers corruption and complacency. I imagine that Malachi’s colleagues would be quite comfortable here. In our world, we have the illusion of having enough to get by on our own, and that is exactly what the prophet is calling to our attention.
The prophet makes the point that simply being God’s people doesn’t promise us a life free of pain or struggle. On the contrary, the prophet is aware that we will suffer in our lives, and wishes to call us from within our complacency to hope. One of our hymns this morning will declare “Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People”. Even though it wasn’t written for Malachi, it perfectly captures the hope of this prophecy. Comfort, comfort, o my people. Speak peace, speak hope, speak joy, for God’s peace and hope and joy awaits. God wants this for God’s people.
During these days of Advent, we face the darkest days of the year in North America. We light candles and Christmas lights and reading lamps and fires against the darkness all around. As an Easter people, we have already been saved by the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross, and we have already experienced the joy of resurrection. So why would these prophecies and this ancient, pre-Messiah book of Malachi hold any interest for us? Are these just interesting pieces or art, or is there still good news within them?
Perhaps it is because it asks the same questions that we continue to ask today. “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” At the end of the day, I imagine that many of you here at St. Mary’s want to have done enough. You want to be a good enough parent to your kids or partner to your spouse. You want to be a good enough boss or employee. You want to know that you have lived that day of your earthly life in such a way that your existence is pleasing to God. You too want to hear that there is hope, joy, peace waiting for us. We too see our world rocked by wars and financial turmoil out of our control and a corrupt deadlocked government. And we too yearn for that comfort of a promised peace, for the promised coming of a God who earnestly desires our redemption.
Thanks be to God, then, for it is good news to hear once again the promises of the coming of the Messiah. It is good news that the covenant is still important to God almighty. The very God for whom we hunger and seek with return suddenly to God’s temple. That is good news in these darkest days of our new year. God is eager to be with God’s people. God actively seeks our redemption and our participation in a relationship with him. Thanks be to God that we are so actively sought and desired. We are God’s truly beloved, and that is Good News indeed.
2 Advent, Year C