This is the second of a four-Sunday season we call Advent. During Advent, we prepare for the Christ Child’s arrival on Christmas Day. It is a time for us to reflect on our lives. Are we ready for his arrival? If he returned tomorrow, would we be ready? Most importantly, how do we get ready? Today’s readings reflect these types of thoughts. Hopefully, we will reflect, discover, and make changes as necessary to prepare for his arrival this Christmas.
Here’s a joke for you. A grandmother was sitting in her rocking chair, reading her bible. Two grandchildren were sitting at her feet. “What’s Grandma doing?” said the one child. The other child answered “She’s studying for her final exam.” The season of Advent is about preparing for our “final exam”, whether it is Jesus coming here or us going there.
Normally, I don’t comment on the Psalm. But this week’s hymn of praise is not from the book of Psalms, but from Luke. The story actually begins in Luke 1:5-20. The angel Gabriel announces to a priest named Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would bear a child. When Zechariah expresses doubt, because of age, Gabriel makes him mute. (That’ll teach him!)
Fast forward to Luke 1:57-67: Elizabeth delivers the child. People ask her what to name him, and she says “John”. Not satisfied with her answer, they ask her husband. Zechariah’s first words are “His name is John”. What follows is Zechariah’s beautiful hymn of praise. This is today’s psalm. By the way, this child becomes the man we call John the Baptist.
The prophet Malachi lived during the post-exilic period of Judah. During this time, God’s people reverted to their old ways, not giving the Lord the honor and praise He deserved. Sacrifices and offerings were weak, and not backed up by righteous living.
- God warns his people that he is sending a messenger ahead of his arrival to the temple. The temple was where God resided on earth. God tells us that he will “suddenly” come to his temple. For sure, he is really coming! Since they are not ready for his coming, He sends a messenger ahead to warn them. (v. 1)
- But think about it—who can really withstand this event? It’s not going to be a cheery parade. It will take endurance and strength! To refine metal, you must use intense heat to drive off the impurities. A fuller was a person responsible for making clothes pure white (without Clorox). A fuller’s soap must have been the strongest thing they had. (v.2)
- So, once God returns, he is going to turn up the heat to the melting point “until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.” In other words, our offerings will not be acceptable to the Lord until our right actions match our offering gift. Ouch! (v. 3)
- But then, once we offer in righteousness, our offering will be pleasing to the Lord.
Early Christians were quick to recognize this passage as a prophecy of the messenger who went before the coming of the Messiah. This reminded them of the mission of John the Baptist. John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah by getting people to reflect and repent. To prepare their hearts for the coming Messiah.
And, just in case you’re wondering, Jesus did indeed turn up the heat. If you’re in doubt, read he Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, especially 5:17-37.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I can hear my father telling me “Actions speak louder than words”. God is not interested in our offerings, sacrifices, or worship, unless our beliefs shine forth in righteous living. How might we be falling short of God’s expectations?
The apostle Paul was in a Roman prison, writing this letter to the church in Philippi. Prison life in Roman times was no picnic. In fact, they didn’t feed or care for the prisoners; that was the responsibility of friends and family. Churches like the one in Philippi were his lifeline. You can tell from the tone of his message that they must have reached out to support him in this time of need. The joy and love that is in this letter is remarkable, considering the agony that Paul must have been subjected to .
- Paul starts out the letter with thankfulness, joy and prayer. In spite of the fact that he is in prison, he’s happy to hear that they are sharing the gospel! (vv. 3-5)
- He’s confident that their work will be “brought to completion” by the time of Jesus’ return. The “one who began a good work among you” is the Holy Spirit, of course. (v. 6)
- Verses 7 & 8 are remarkable in that there is this intense love between Paul and this church—so much so that the prison bars almost seem to melt away!
- Paul’s prayer for this church is that their love will flow and increase even more, that they will learn what the best path is for them to follow, and that they live in righteousness. (vv. 9-11)
The Advent message for us lays in verses 5 and 6. We should be working hard to share the gospel message with those around us, as we wait for Jesus’ return.
Today’s passage is our introduction to John the Baptist’s ministry. We will study this in detail next week.
- The passage starts with a list of political and religious leaders. It is written this way because at the time, they did not have calendars like we do, to mark the date of an event. By stating it this way, Luke was able to pinpoint the beginning of John’s ministry. (vv. 1-2)
- John’s work was not done in the big cities, but out in the boondocks—“the wilderness” along the Jordan river valley north of Jerusalem. He preached repentance for one’s sins, and offered “a baptism” as a sign of repentance and forgiveness. (v. 3)
- Luke now quotes Isaiah 40:3-5, to show that John’s ministry was part of God’s plan to prepare the people of God for His coming Messiah. (vv. 4-6)
It is interesting that the bible doesn’t mention baptism until these verses in the New Testament. Isaiah 1 speaks of the sinfulness of God’s people, and the need to repent. Verse 16 instructs the repentant ones to wash themselves clean of their sinfulness.
John calls to each one of us today. He calls us to examine our lives, “come clean”, and be honest with ourselves. We should identify the many ways we have fallen short of God’s expectations. He calls us to repent & begin again, knowing that we are loved and forgiven. This is how we prepare for Jesus’ to enter our hearts on Christmas.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
How do we prepare for his coming?
- By making sure that our righteous actions match the piety we profess. (Malachi 3:1-4)
- By sharing the Good News with others, while we wait. (Philippians 1:3-11)
- By reflecting on our sinful nature, repenting, and starting anew. (Luke 31-6)
Looks like we all have a lot of work to do this Advent season!