December 5th, 2021 – The Messenger

Sermon for Advent II, 2021, Random Lake                                       12/5/21

Theme: THE MESSENGER

Text Malachi 3: 1-4

Introduction                 Every Advent of our lives, we have to go by John the Baptizer to get to Jesus.  Drawn by the light of the Star of Bethlehem, we are traveling through the cool, blue night, filled with hope.  We are minding our own business: shopping, decorating, sending cards—you know the traditional things.  We might see some TV “Holiday” specials, listen to our favorite music, and reminisce about past happiness, “BC,” before COVID.  We can’t wait for the familiar carols to be sung by candlelight on Christmas Eve.

                                    Then comes the Second Sunday in Advent, when John the Baptizer appears.  It’s like gliding over a snowy landscape, bundled up in a horse-drawn carriage along with your favorite people.  Nostalgia and warm feeling flow inside. But just over the next hill, we see sparks twirling up into the star-studded sky. Reaching the top, we look down and see—you guessed it—John the Baptizer, preaching in front of a bonfire with a pitchfork in one hand and an ax in the other.  He calls for radical change—not just new wrapping paper for the cute gift we got for our nephew or a gaudy inflatable on the lawn.

                                    Oh, shoot!  Who wants this party-pooper?  Isn’t this the kind of religion we’ve been running away from since our childhood?  The fire and brimstone stuff all about judgment and guilt—who needs it?  Life is tough already for those of us who are tiptoeing our way through the pandemic and hearing about a spike in cases, inflation, and shortages of items stuck in the supply chain.  Maybe we ought to take another road away from John’s “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”

                                    But, hold on!  Not so fast!  Haven’t we come this way to worship the Lord, who only wants our good?  Perhaps, we ought to sit still and hear what God says through his prophets.  If we listen, we may get some help in our hurting world.  Stop the nostalgia buggy, and hear THE MESSENGER.

I           Whoa! The first messenger is Malachi—encountered in the first reading.  He name means “my messenger.” God is speaking to his people of old, and to us.

            See whether or not you can identify with the prophet’s situation.  People of Malachi’s time were going through the motions, but they didn’t have their heart in what they were doing.  Duty and obligation were the watchwords.   The machinery of the economy and religion were stumbling along, but there was not much enthusiasm.  Some were cutting corners to enhance the bottom line.  Yet, they didn’t feel very good about it.  To be precise, the priests were offering blind, lame, and sick animals in sacrifices. This poor-quality merchandise din not honor the Lord God.

            Malachi, the Lord’s messenger, came on the scene proclaiming a refiner’s fire, burning up the impurities and turning up gold and silver.  He would refine the people, so that they could feel their true worth.  He would polish them up inside.  They would truly shine.

            Did you ever hear anyone say, “I just can’t get in the mood for Christmas?” Perhaps, you’ve felt that way yourself.  We find ourselves tracking along the rails of expectation: clackety clack.  “Got to get it done.  God to get it done.  Oh, will I be glad when it’s all over.”

II.         The Lord wants more for us.  God wants us renewed from the heart out.  The coming of Jesus was designed to make us glow, to feel full of love and joy.  God planned a huge operation to make it happen.  His attack on human sin and emptiness required far more planning than the D-Day landing on the coast of France.  God sent the messengers to prepare the way of his Son.

            Malachi and John the Baptizer was like the sixteen-inch guns firing from the battleships, designed to hit the pillboxes and soften up the enemy defenses.  He spoke plain words of judgment and mercy, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

            The evangelist Luke introduces John in the manner of the grand persons of antiquity.  Luke names all the rulers at the time, dating John’s appearance as precisely as he can.  “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee” –naming the bigshots all the way down to the pipsqueak Lysanias—Luke sets God’s work in human history. He even mentions the religious leaders: Annas and Caiaphas.

            Take it from Luke, whatever politicians vie for power, God will be working in this country as usual—in judgment and mercy.  Leaders do well to heed who is the highest authority.  The Lord makes his voice heard.  And his words produce results. We too do well to listen.

            The voice of God was heard in the wilderness.   It came from Zechariah and Elizabeth, the aging priestly couple, who were righteous and devout, though past the child rearing years.  Gabriel, the messenger from heaven, named their son John, which means “God is gracious.”  The Lord set this desert-man on the other side of the Jordan River to prepare the way to a new and better future.

III         The voice, that is, the message was more important than the man.  The Lord saw his people stuck in ways of their own making.  They tried to manipulate God with rituals and human rules to manufacture happiness.  They forgot justice and mercy, the covenant of love, which God had given them in the wilderness of Sinai.  So, they need to make significant changes in their thinking and actions.

            John the Baptizer was calling them back to days of freedom, grace and the real presence of the Almighty.  He called them out of the economic machinery and political gridlock of Rome verses Judea.  John called them to a oneness with the Lord and with one another.

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked shall be made straight, and rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

            John saw that everyone needed renewal and was offered forgiveness.  Baptism was a sign for each person.  The valley people—poor, empty, unnoticed– would be lifted up.  The mountain people—wealthy, proud, boastful—would be brought low.  So that all could enjoy community together in the way of the Lord.  All could walk side by side, upright, on the straight path to glory.

IV         I propose that this is good news for all of us today.  Whether one shops at Nordstrom or Walmart, we are rich in grace and forgiveness.  We are candidates for the kingdom’s joy.  We are all welcome to the one table that really matters. We are all on the guest list of the Lord Jesus Christ.  For it is written: “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

            John pointed to Jesus, who came with a refiner’s fire to purify people from their illusions of real life without God.  Jesus came to burn off pride and self-sufficiency.  He came to welcome us to the family of believers.  Jesus came to separate the chaff of false ideas and to introduce us to the wheat of his truth, that we are destined for eternal joy. His death and resurrection sealed the deal.  

Conclusion      Well, what is there left to say?  How about: “Be a messenger of God.” Perhaps, you can find a way to be a Malachi or John the Baptizer.  Be clear on what really matters in these “holy days.”  Pay less attention to the chaff and more to the wheat. 

                        For when the wrapping paper and tinsel are burned away, the Christ will still be glowing warm with love in your hearts.  The very best of you will be revealed.  You will be on fire with the Holy Spirit.  As Malachi and John and all your fellow believers here, you will take your place as THE MESSENGER.

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