How many of you love road construction? I mean how many of you get excited when you’re driving and the traffic slows to a stop, and you look at your phone and it tells you there is roadwork ahead? We recently had roadwork outside Faith Church as they were working on curbs for a new complex going in across the street. From my house, if I took the long way, I could skip most of the roadwork, but I would often forget, and end up waiting in a long line that backed for more than a mile. It is very normal hate road construction, but this week, we’re going to get a whole new viewpoint on road construction!
With this post we start a week-long series studying the Lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent…and road construction? And first up is a reading from another Old Testament prophet, Malachi 3:1-4.
Remember last week when one of readings was from the prophet Jeremiah, and the reading told us of the time Jeremiah bought a field when the armies of Babylon had surrounded the city of Jerusalem with siege works? Today, we travel 150 years or so after the time of Jeremiah, and we come to the ministry of the prophet Malachi.
A lot happened to the people of Israel in that 150 years. They were defeated by Babylon, exiled, and their land was ravaged. Eventually the Persians defeated the Babylonians, and allowed people to return to Israel. You can read about it in the books of Haggai and Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah, where we hear stories of the people clearing the land and starting to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and the temple.
Nehemiah was a Jew who had risen in the ranks while in exile in Persia. He was cup-bearer to the Persian king, who allowed Nehemiah to return to Israel to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was an amazing leader and under him the people returned not only to Israel, they also returned to the Lord. Eventually Nehemiah had to go back to Persia. Some years went by and Nehemiah traveled back to Jerusalem to find the people had turned away from God yet again. Malachi is writing somewhere close to that time.
So think about this: Israel has its past memories of glory. Memories of prominence, and especially memories of their God residing at the temple. But that is no more. God removed his glory and presence from the temple. Thus the big question on the people’s hearts and minds, then, is, “When will God return?” They have returned to the land, they have started to rebuild. But when will God show up? That brings us to Malachi 3.
What word do you see repeated in verse 1? Take a look, and you will see there are two instances of the word “messenger” in verse 1. The first messenger we read about is one who will prepare the way for the Lord’s arrival.
Then suddenly the Lord will come to his temple, and we find out that the Lord is the second messenger. But where the first messenger has a job of preparing the way for the Lord’s arrival, the second messenger, the Lord himself, has a job of being the messenger of his covenant.
God had his covenant with Israel long before this. We have been studying that covenant in our Deuteronomy series. He made the covenant with Israel, under the leadership of Moses, but Israel broke the covenant, and God allowed their nation to be destroyed and exiled, and God removed his presence from them. Through God’s prophets, like Malachi, though, God introduced the idea of a new covenant.
Here in Malachi 3 we are hearing about two messengers that will arrive in the future to usher in this new covenant. One messenger prepares the way, and the next messenger is the Lord himself. Malachi says that the people are looking for the arrival of these messengers. The people are described as seeking and desiring the arrival of messengers.
But look at verse 2 where we read the description of the second messenger’s arrival. In verse 1 Malachi has already said that that the second messenger will arrive suddenly. Now he asks some disconcerting questions about his arrival: “Who can endure it? Who can stand when he appears?”
Do those questions make you feel good or bad about his arrival? When we think of the Lord arriving, we think of cheering crowds and salvation and hope and joy. But this description in Malachi 3 is not like that at all. These questions verse 2 sound ominous! Endure it? Who can stand it? It seems like the Lord is telling the people, “Brace yourselves, people, because I’m about to come in like a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami.” Is that the kind of arrival you want God to make?
While it sounds uncomfortable, it might be the best thing for us. But how? Tomorrow we’ll learn more about this surprising arrival of the Lord. And what about road construction? We’ll get back to that too!