WE WAIT “PREPAREDLY” Second Sunday in Advent
Malachi 3:1-7b LSB Series C
December 9, 2018
1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
6 “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ (ESV)
“The people are tired. The preacher, the prophet, is tired. They say: ‘Wait. Wait again, etc. No matter how much we serve the Lord, yet the Gentiles have it better than we.’ But He says: ‘Have confidence. Behold, your salvation is now at the door and that kingdom will be changed. Your murmurings and the complaints of the prophets will cease, who believe that they are preaching in vain. The righteous will be separated from the wicked, and the wicked will no longer be more powerful, more fortunate.’” (AE, LW, Vol. 18, p. 408)
So wrote Martin Luther in his commentary on this passage. He seemed to understand keenly the challenge that Malachi’s hearers faced. The book seems to fit best with the year 450 bc, some 60+ years after the Jews had returned from the Babylonian exile. They are waiting, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Messiah, waiting for the day when all their sorrows will end. Waiting is hard.
We, too, are waiting. We know the promise God made to his Old Testament people was fulfilled. Christ, the promised Messiah, did come. God “has visited and redeemed his people, and raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” (Lk 1:68b-69). We are waiting for this Christ to come again to bring about our final deliverance from the hand of our enemies that we “might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Lk 1:74b-75).
But our waiting isn’t mere idleness. John came into the wilderness “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Lk 3:3). He came to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3:4), to make ready the people to receive their coming Messiah. We, too, must be prepared for Christ’s coming again to this creation. But, like the people of Judea to whom John was sent, we must be prepared. Being ready for Christ’s return isn’t something we can do. It must be done to us and for us. It can only be accomplished by God himself through the proclamation of his Word.
I. PREPARATION BEGINS WITH KNOWING AND CONFESSING OUR SIN
That’s the work John the Baptist was given as God’s messenger. He came as the one who would prepare the nation for the coming of their Savior. He came as one who would remove every obstacle in the way of the one who was to come. Like the prophets of old he came as one who called people to repentance. Remember the words he spoke to the crowds: “You brood of vipers!” (Lk 3:7). He called them “sons of snakes.” In their sinfulness, they had become the children of the serpent who plunged this creation into slavery to sin and death. John called them away from their false faith in their lineage: “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” (8). His word of judgment rained down upon the nation:
“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (9)
We need to hear this truth today. We need to be jarred from our complacency in our sinfulness. We cannot rely upon being “good people.” We cannot rely upon being good Lutherans all our lives. We cannot rely upon our sacrificial giving or that our names are on the membership list. Luther writes that “there are many things which hinder the ‘way,’ that is, the work of the Lord” in us. “Those things must be removed, especially human reason, self-love, one’s own wisdom, one’s own righteousness.” (AE, LW, Vol. 18, p. 408-9). Our pride stands in the way of Christ’s coming to us in mercy. Our wisdom defies the wisdom of God’s Word and keeps Christ at arm’s length. Our self-reliance refuses the Christ who alone can carry the burden of our sin.
We need the Word of God that reveals the depth of our depravity, for we cannot fathom it ourselves. It is the Word that reveals that we, too, are a “brood of vipers” (Lk 3:7), sons of snakes, “poor, miserable sinners” (LSB, Divine Service Three, p.184) who deserve nothing but the judgment of death. It is the Word that discloses the depth of our depravity and threatens us with divine denunciation. Only through the Word God’s messenger brings can we know our transgressions and see our sin set before us. Through the Word we learn that we have not listened to the voice of our God, have not submitted to him, nor walked in his ways.
We must recognize our sinfulness and confess the truth before our God. But we need more than that. We need to be purified of that which has fouled our hearts before our coming God.
II. PREPARATION CONCLUDES WITH BEING PURIFIED OF ALL OUR SIN
The work of John the Baptist was two-fold. John was God’s messenger who tore open the dark dungeon in which the nation had attempted to conceal their sin, and shone the light of divine truth into the inner recesses of their hearts. Second, he pointed them forward to the “messenger of the covenant.” He was “like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” (2). “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver” (3). The Messenger of the covenant would remove the sin that hindered his coming to his people and renew them to serve in righteousness and purity. The people could not do this themselves. They could be brought to a knowledge of their sinfulness, but they could do nothing to remove the stain of sin embedded in their hearts. The past cannot be erased simply by acknowledging it.
Only God can remove the sin that dwells in our hearts and makes us unprepared for Christ’s coming. That is the work of the Messenger of the Covenant, who by his Word cleanses us from all our sin. This Messenger of the covenant came suddenly to his temple. He came as the true and final high priest to offer a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the people. He came as the final, perfect sacrifice, who offered himself on the altar of the cross for the sins of his people. This Messenger of the covenant completed that covenant by his sacrificial death in payment for our sins. The sinfulness we cannot cleanse, he has wiped away with his holy, precious blood. Therefore, cleansed of our sin by his sacrifice, our “love may abound more and more”, we “may approve what is excellent”, we may now “be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”, and we are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” (Php 1:9, 10, 11).
The prophet who penned these words is really unknown to us. There is no record of a prophet by that name in any Biblical book other than this one. His name means, literally, “messenger.” His message points us to John the Baptist and his work of preparing the nation of Judah for the coming Christ.
To wait for Christ “preparedly” means to acknowledge and confess our sin, and to be purified by his blood. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words:
The coming of God is truly not only a joyous message, but is, first, frightful news for anyone who has a conscience. And only when we have felt the frightfulness of the matter can we know the incomparable favor. God comes in the midst of evil, in the midst of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And in judging it, he loves us, he purifies us, he sanctifies us, he comes to us with his grace and love. He makes us happy as only children can be happy. (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. God Is In the Manger (Kindle Locations 178-181). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
Only the Word of God can expose the truth of our sinfulness. Only the living Word can cleanse us of our sin. Therefore we humbly bow before our God this day, confessing our sin and rejoicing in his grace.