Advent 2 · Malachi 3:1-7b · December 6, 2009
By Wallace Becker
This is the Old Testament reading for Advent 2. “He comes.” Prepare for his coming.
The reading from Malachi says that God will send his messenger to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. The Gospel reading from Luke 3:1-20 describes the work of John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy. In the Epistle reading from Philippians 1:2-11, Paul gives words of greeting and encouragement to the Christians in Philippi. He prays that they will be ready for the Day of Christ, the day of his coming.
The name “Malachi” means “my messenger.” Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. He was the last prophetic voice until John the Baptist, a period of four hundred years. His ministry took place following the return of the captives from exile in Babylon. The temple and walls had been rebuilt under the leadership of Nehemiah as governor. However, the people were losing hope. This was not the glorious Day of the Lord pictured by earlier prophets. The people, especially the leaders—the prophets and priests—were unfaithful to the Lord and his Covenant.
Although the text begins with Malachi 3:1, the thought begins in the previous chapter. Malachi accuses the people: “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” The people ask, “How?” Malachi answers: “You say that God overlooks evil. You ask, ‘where is His justice?'” This pattern of posed questions, with the response, is used several times in Malachi.
Those who ask, “Where is God’s justice?” usually do not consider where they will stand when God does come in judgment. They mistake his patience, wanting all people to come to repentance and faith, as tolerance of evil and approval of the sinner.
God gives the answer, beginning with the text. God will send his messenger to prepare the way for God, the Lord, the messenger of the Covenant, to come to his temple. When he comes, he will come to judge, but he will judge his people first. He will hold the leaders (e.g. the Levites and priests) accountable. The sins that are listed include sorcery; adultery; perjury; dishonest business practices; oppression of the widow, fatherless, and alien; and a lack of fear or respect for God.
This judgment is described as a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap. God’s law is applied to remove the dirt and impurities, the evil from their hearts and lives, and to lead them to repentance. What remains? A people who have the righteousness of God.
God’s Law is applied so that the Gospel may be received. Verse 6 says that God does not change. The descendants of Jacob are not destroyed. His mercy is available as it has been in the past. Return in repentance to receive his grace.
Advent is a season of waiting. We wait, sometimes impatiently, for something better. We get discouraged, maybe even impatient with God. This impatience may even cause us to question our faith, or we may even be tempted to abandon that faith.
God comes. Advent. He came the first Christmas in the person of Jesus. Jesus will come again at the end of time. But he comes to us in between as well, in this time and place, through his Word and Sacraments. He comes to us here and now.
He still comes with two Words: Law and Gospel. His law shows us who we really are, what we are. His refiner’s fire, launderer’s soap, brings us to repentance, so that his Gospel can raise us up and encourage us with all that Jesus has done for us. Jesus takes all our sin upon himself and dies in our place upon the cross, and in exchange he gives us his own righteousness.
God still sends his messengers before him as he comes to people with judgment and grace, with law and gospel. We are his messengers sent to prepare the way for his coming into the hearts and lives of people—his temple made with living stones.