First Sunday in Advent WHOLE PICTURE 1
Scripture: Malachi 4:1-6
4 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.
2 “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. 3 On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
4 “Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.
5 “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. 6 His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Christmas is coming! In the swirl of the season we can easily focus too narrowly on this single day. It is helpful to remember that God’s purpose for the birth of the Redeemer is to bring restoration to everything God has created. So, we begin observing the Christian Year at the very end of time, the final advent of Jesus, and work backwards through the season to his birth and then forward to his Passion, Ascension, and advent of the Holy Spirit. You see, the Nativity has a much grander scope than simply the birth of baby Jesus. It is so much more significant than a Jesus’ birthday party!
This passage from Malachi is both a warning and a joyous promise to us as well. There is no doubt these words will come to pass and there will be judgment for all. Though his words were strong and clear, there is no evidence that the majority of those who heard Malachi’s message changed their crooked ways. As in those days many who hear the gospel today reject the offer of forgiveness and salvation. Nevertheless, those who repented were forgiven by God and spared a severe judgment.
All people who honor the Lord will experience an abiding joy even in awful times. For them, there is no fear in judgment. The image of “leaping calves being led out to pasture” is another vivid image to a farm boy like me! How well I remember when in late March or early April, we opened the barn doors for the first time and let the calves, which had been penned up during the cold winter months, out into the fresh spring air. They ran and jumped around like little lambs or goats, almost out of control! Their little legs were wobbly with excitement! We loved to watch the joy of those first minutes of newly discovered freedom. Malachi writes of this kind of joy along with the reminder to “remember our history” and what God has done and requires.
The Scriptures give us the repeated reminder to keep God’s biggest story in mind. The Older Testament concludes with the admonition to be on the alert for Elijah and the coming of Messiah. The Newer Testament ends the same way with the admonition to look for the Return of the Messiah and concludes with the call, “Come, Lord Jesus,” the conclusion to the final advent!
Music: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” Anna Hawkins
O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is accomplished. Lord, how we long for your return. In your mercy come again and receive us unto yourself, grant us a safe lodging in our heavenly home, the home you are preparing for us, and grant us a holy rest, and peace at last through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
―John Henry Newman 1801-1890, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), p.70, Compiled Veronica Zundel, adapted Daniel Sharp
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