First Reading Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm Canticle 16
Second Reading Philippians 1:3-11
Gospel Luke 3:1-6
“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” - Malachi 3:1
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
God seems to call a special kind of people to be prophets. Prophets share God’s words, revelations, and instructions. Prophets often tell uncomfortable truths. Prophets always seem to nudge and urge us in uncomfortable directions. Often, prophets reluctantly answer the call, and for their trouble are persecuted and suffer. Malachi has the unenviable position of being between God and the Jews in the middle of an argument. The people question God’s justice and mercy, asking “Why does it seem evil in the world is winning. Why do those who do bad things seem to prosper? Why do the good seem to be punished?” Sound familiar?
God answers that divine justice is alive and well, though we may not understand. And if we do not seek understanding, how will we be prepared to receive God’s justice?
The herald is announcing and calling us to preparedness. One must be prepared for the in-breaking of the kingdom. If we are not prepared for something so life changing and world altering, if we don’t brace ourselves, we might be knocked down ... we might fall down. The consecration of a temple prepares and declares a space as dedicated to the worship and praise of God. Advent is our opportunity to consecrate ourselves, to prepare, for God’s activity in our lives, in the world, and declare that we are ready to receive and to serve. Malachi is sharing God’s word that a messenger is coming, but it is not Malachi. There is another yet to come.
We begin again, early in the new year of the Church, where we will hear primarily from Luke. As we might expect from a physician, Luke begins the ministry of John the Baptist by locating him in a specific space and time. John the Baptist is a real person, with traceable lineage, appearing on the scene amid markable Roman and religious leaders. John proclaims and practices around the river Jordon. After all, if you are known as John the Baptist, you better have some water around to baptize. All of this is set in a context we can understand. At a real time, in a real place, all of these things happened. Mark these days, then and now, because something special is happening.
The Word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness. It did not happen in the Temple, or while he was in seminary. It did not happen to Herod or Caiaphas, who had the position and power and influence to spread the Word. It happened to John, Zechariah’s boy, the one who while still in his mother’s womb leapt for joy in a feat of amniotic acrobatics, at the presence of Jesus, still in Mary’s womb.
The Word of God came to John the Baptist, a divine drumroll, the call of a prophet who was prophesied by prophets before. And John accepted the role of a new kind of prophet, proclaiming what was proclaimed in the past, what has been promised all along, and the promise that is before us now, at this very moment fulfilled. John proclaims the Word God has revealed to him, looking back and looking forward: looking back in repentance, turning around, to a call to reorient our lives; looking ahead to a new beginning ... forgiveness of sins, a do over, an opportunity to make new choices. Perhaps most importantly, John faithfully delivers God’s Word which defines who John is, and who John is not. John the Baptist is the messenger that was promised, pointing to the One who has been promised, who is to come, and who is here. John calls us to preparedness, focused like a laser on Jesus Christ, so that we might receive the gift of transformed life.
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” The quote from Isaiah connects John to the hope for God’s restoration of Israel, but God plans so much more. God will outdo God’s self this time, providing a path for restoration of all of Creation. Luke does not place John in a particular place and time so historians today can verify. Luke describes the kingdoms of the world, the Roman emperor, his local client rulers, and the religious establishment, that will be replaced. Luke describes the locale around the Jordan as ground zero, from which a divine blast of salvation will emanate throughout the cosmos. Our call is to be prepared. Get ready. Brace ourselves. Even lean in. Salvation through Jesus Christ comes to us as a gift, not by our own effort. Ours is only to prepare and receive, then participate.
How shall we prepare, receive, and participate? Perhaps our patron Paul gives a hint and example in his letter to the Philippians. Paul writes a love letter to his friends, repeating the collective words “all of you,” and expressing gratitude, joy, and rejoicing. Paul invites all into praise and thanksgiving. Paul does not address only Jews or only Gentiles, or limit his message to one nationality. He does not ask if you voted for the emperor, or your immigration policy, or where you stand on any politics or other labels of the world that divide. Paul proclaims a sharing in the Gospel, a partnership in missionary work, and unity in all the things that really matter.
Imagine how our world would be today if we greeted each other as Paul writes:
“I thank my God every time I remember you. I hold you in my heart. How I long for you all with the compassion of Christ Jesus. I am constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, for all of you share in God’s grace with me. And this is what I pray ... that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best.” Paul rejoices in full fellowship in the Gospel, and says so. And Paul writes all of this while he is in prison. Even in prison Paul is responding to God’s blessings, and rejoicing. So what excuse do we have? Why don’t we talk like this to each other today? Shouldn’t we? The first signs of preparedness, receiving God’s gift of Christ and each other, may be in opening our hearts to one another, reorienting our thinking, and proclaiming God’s activity among us in words.
Malachi’s text is found in responsive form in Hendel's Messiah. After the first presentation of Messiah in London in 1741, Hendel wrote to a friend, "I should be sorry if I only entertained them. I wished to make them better." Hendel hoped to "present offerings to the Lord in righteousness" ... to prepare the way of the Lord. In our world today, filled with division and tribalism, rejection and isolation, hate and violence, selfishness and suffering, creation longs for the Way of the Lord. We are called to prepare, anticipate, and participate in God’s activity. We participate and prepare way of the Lord by developing holy habits of prayer & worship, making time and room for God in our lives, discerning mission and call, building up and supporting others, and seeking encounters and opportunities to serve, loving God and loving others as ourselves. God is making the crooked path straight, flattening hills, filling in low places, and smoothing the rough roads. God is calling us to prepare the way of the Lord, and participate in God’s activity, so that it might be on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.