Second Sunday in Advent: Malachi 3:1-6: The Coming of Malachi
We considered last week the message of Jeremiah that it was necessary for Israel to go down into the death of exile in order for Israel to be restored to God. We considered in Jeremiah a political dimension of Advent: for Israel to be nation again she had to die in exile. Malachi is the record of prophet who confronted Israel after the exile. Part of returning from exile meant returning to the land. But return from exile also meant being in a right standing with God. Yet even after Israel returned to the land, things were still not right.
“Malachi” means “my messenger.” 1:1 names Malachi the author although some have speculated that it may be derived from its subject matter. This messenger will “prepare the way” before the Lord. The word for “prepare” literally means to “turn.” Yahweh will send his messenger to “turn the way” to Himself. This is the glory of our God, the God who bends down in His unfathomable grace and turns the way to Him. Notice that there is another Messenger in this passage, the “Messenger of the covenant.” This is Jesus who did suddenly appear in the temple and began over turning tables (e.g. Mk. 11:15).
Remember that the word “messenger” could just as easily be translated “angel.” The Angel of God has played an important role in Israel’s history. It was the Angel of God who found Hagar and Ishmael and provided for them. It was the Angel of God that appeared to Jacob and delivered him from Laban and brought him safely back to the land of his fathers. It was the Angel of God that led Israel out of Egypt and defended them from Pharaoh’s army (Ex. 14:19). It was the Angel of God who raised Gideon up to deliver Israel from the Midianites. It was the Angel of God who raised Samson up to fight the enemies of Israel. David is described as being “like the angel of God” a number of times during his reign, being able to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong. And finally, we see Paul in Galatians saying that they received him as an “angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 4:14) This Angel/Messenger of God is the one from God who delivers Israel from slavery, starvation, oppression, and exile. And yet, Israel is back in Israel. Why are things not right in the land?
A Pleasant Offering
Malachi’s lawsuit is particularly brought against the “sons of Levi,” those who offer worship on behalf of the people. He is coming to purify and refine and purge the “sons of Levi” that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness. Pure worship is the aim of God’s work. But this means that men do not offer pure worship to God automatically. What were the liturgical abuses of Israel? Despising the name of God (v. 1:6), offering “defiled food” (v. 7), offering blind, lame and sick sacrifices (v. 8), and therefore God has no pleasure in their offerings and he will not accept it (v. 10). But this is not an obstacle to God; he will be worshiped throughout the world, “his name will be great among the nations.” (v. 11) But those who continue to profane his name without taking his commandment to heart, he will curse (2:1-2). This curse will come upon their descendents as well; and the curse will be that God will give them what they have been offering Him (2:3). Their worship is crap (excrement, dung, manure), and therefore God is going to smear it all over their faces. But His Messenger is coming to purify the “sons of Levi” that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness.
Crooked Places Straight
The first messenger was John the Baptist of course, whom we read about in our Gospel Lesson today. God called him out of the wilderness to proclaim a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” He was the one foretold also by the prophet Isaiah, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” John came to turn the way of the people to the straight path, the narrow road leading to the God of the Universe. In that passage in Isaiah, he begins by declaring comfort to Israel because her iniquity is pardoned, “for she has received form the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Is. 40:1-2) What is the “way of the Lord”? Where is this “comfort” to be found? Jesus is our “way”, our “truth”, and our “life.” He is the way to the Father. The story of the gospel is Adam and Eve thrust out into exile from the garden, God calling a specific family in Abraham and Israel to show the “way to the nations”. That way was witnessed in the tabernacle and temple systems, showing Israel and the nations how to “draw near” to the Lord. We have been estranged through sin and death, but in Jesus, God speaks comfort to us. Because He has brought us back into the garden. Jesus is the straight path; he is the way into the Holy of Holies. The “way of the Lord” is faithful worship in Jesus.
Conclusion & Applications
Advent celebrates the “cleansing of the Temple” not just that Jesus knocked a bunch of tables over two thousand years ago, but what he symbolized, the destruction of the old, polluted temple that was an offense to God and the reconstruction of a new temple in His own body to offer sacrifices of praise that are pleasing to God. True cultural reformation will necessarily flow out of a thoroughgoing reformation of worship. Worship is not something that comes natural to fallen man. We have inherited a lot of thoughtlessness when it comes to worship. And as we seek to recover a robust and faithful liturgy, at times it feels a bit like playing dress up with clothes that don’t quite seem to fit. But we offer all of our worship in Jesus who perfects it all before the Father. So trust God, search the Scriptures, seek God’s face, and join your hearts, hands and voices with thankfulness.
But we believe that God is blessing us in this. He is giving us a reformation of worship here and throughout the country and the world. Advent is the celebration of God’s coming to us in Christ. He has come in the Incarnation and he will come at the end, but He continues to come to us week by week in the Holy Spirit as we renew covenant together. He has not left us to ourselves. His Spirit is the “Comforter” John says. Therefore the advent of Jesus means the reformation of worship, access to the Father. And this is comfort indeed.