THE PROMISE OF THE MESSIAH
HISTORY IRRUPTS INTO OUR STORY
1 "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
68"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
69He has raised up a horn[a] of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."
3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6And all mankind will see God's salvation.' "
Before the days of cameras and camcorders, camera phones and the internet, before the days of books and even before the days of written communication, God created the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars and all the planets, the plants and animals, all things that are, and God created humankind in the image of God, male and female God created us. In that beginning, we are told, God used to come walk with us in the cool of the evening, talking with us, presumably about the things we had seen and done that day, communicating and being in relation with us, and all was well in all God’s green earth.
But then –and those are never good words to hear after the creation of an idyllic scene– but then we decided we wished to be more than we understood ourselves to be. We wanted to be like God ourselves. However, it is always and inevitably the case that when the mirror wishes to be the image it reflects, disappointment is the only possible outcome, and the broken shards that result from those shattered expectations, fantasies, and desires quickly become life threatening.
For a time we wandered, we thought alone, and as we became increasingly infatuated with ourselves, our predicament grew ever more intolerable and our existence and our relationships became ever more fractured. We experienced the Flood that washed our world but could not cleanse our hearts. Because we still wished to be gods unto ourselves we built a city that became a Babel that only exacerbated our alienation from God and each other.
All the while, unbeknownst to us, God was working for us, and the frustrations we experienced were an integral part of God working out a salvation for us, because when the mirror wishes to be the image it reflects, that fantasy must be shattered in order for the dream of a mirror that truly, though never flawlessly, reflects the beauty of the creator, to have a prayer.
God called Abraham and promised him a family, descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky. This was in the time when large families were equated with more wealth, and wealth was a matter of survival rather than a vain and tawdry status symbol in the rat race to keep up with the Joneses. God had to intervene to prevent Abraham’s slaughter of the only child through whom Abraham hoped to realize this Promise. In spite of Abraham, the family grew to become a nation, and always this family/nation halted between seasons of worshiping God, peace and prosperity, and times of selfish idolatry that justice could only answer with judgement on them and their families.
And so for thousands of years people have been looking for God in all the wrong places. For generations people have looked for peace and justice, for prosperity and love, and almost invariably found themselves at odds with each other and God regarding what constituted peace and justice. Their legitimate desire for God morphed into a perverted quest to install themselves as God, and the result was intractable struggle and fractious contention that revealed the depravity of their souls as they, lacking the understanding that they were mirrors who were to reflect God in their lives and in themselves, tried to make themselves gods, a project which could only result in broken mirrors, broken dreams, and broken lives.
Prophets have come and prophets have gone. Along with the prophets who spoke God’s word were myriads of prophets who spoke words that the people wanted to hear, rather than the words they needed to hear. By Malachi’s time most of those voices had been silenced. The most active period of prophecy according to the written record had occurred some 200 years earlier, and by Malachi’s time the silence had been deafening for generations. In Malachi’s time there is a short period of renewed hope as Ezra and Nehemiah prod the people to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Even that hope, however is bittersweet, as those old enough to recall the magnificance of Solomon’s gold plated temple see the meager results of the current effort to rebuild the monument of Israel’s hope that is taken to be the House of Yahweh, their God.
It is into this context that Malachi’s words come, both as a Promise and a warning. The Messenger whom you seek will come, but who will be able to stand when He comes? He will come with refining fire, and even the Levites, the only one of the twelve tribes who could enter the inner sanctum of the temple to intercede before Yahweh for the people, even the Levites would require excruciating refinement. There are in Malachi’s words both the promise of hope, and the dire warning of judgement that no one could hope to survive and yet, the end result will be people who once again will bring offerings of righteousness. In the end we will not only survive, but we will once again see the best of the good old days. We will be restored to the relationship we enjoyed in the Garden, the relationship for which we were created and without which we cannot survive and, even if we could survive without the relationship, such survival would be worse than extinction.
Then we read the words in which Luke records Zechariah’s prophecy of the Promise fulfilled. Malachi’s hope is realized! The Messiah is here! The Lord has come and has redeemed His people! The One we desire has come and He will bring salvation! And it is because of the tender mercy of God that the rising sun comes from heaven and shines on us who live in darkness, on us who live with the shadow of death looming over us, and He guides our feet along the path of peace! The fire that consumes is the fire that gives life. And all of this has happened. Our salvation has appeared and the Messiah is here! Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel!
As we move to Paul’s words in Philippians we encounter another subtle shift in tone. Paul is excited about partnership of the Philippians in the gospel. Paul is confident that the One who began the good work of salvation in the lives of the Philippians will continue to work out that salvation “until the day of Christ Jesus.” Wait a minute! Hasn’t He been and gone? Didn’t Zechariah say that our salvation had come and that the Jesus who was here and is now gone would bring salvation for us all? Then what’s this about the good work being completed in the day of Christ Jesus as a future thing? Paul’s understanding is quite clearly that we are all in this together and that we are still looking forward to a future realization of hope and consummation of a good work begun and, what’s more, that the Philippians, and presumably we, have a role to play in this good work. What is our role in this “partnership in the gospel?” In the context of Philippians 1 Paul is consumed with spreading the gospel. Even though Paul is in chains, he is excited that the gospel is being preached, whether from good motives or bad does not matter to him, as long as the good news of the grace of God, which is the gift of God, is spread to all peoples.
Luke fills us in on the context of John the Baptist’s partnership in the gospel. First he pays attention to the people and the times of John’s ministry. He tells us where John preached (in the country around the Jordan) and what he preached (a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins). What has not changed is that the good news includes warning. The good news does not, and cannot, gloss over what needs to change.
However, if we keep Paul’s words in mind we must recognize that this partnership in the gospel begins with us as “our love abounds more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” and we are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Our partnership in the gospel is a radical life change (repentance) that is the salvation that has come. Our very lives are the proclamation of the gospel. It is our lives lived in the mundane context of our existence implicated in political, geographical, meterological, social, religious concerns that bears witness to the salvation that has come, is coming, and, we hope against all odds, will come.
1 "Look! I'm sending my messenger on ahead to clear the way for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Leader you've been looking for will enter his Temple—yes, the Messenger of the Covenant, the one you've been waiting for. Look! He's on his way!" A Message from the mouth of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
2-4But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance?
He'll be like white-hot fire from the smelter's furnace. He'll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He'll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He'll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they're fit for God, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Then, and only then, will Judah and Jerusalem be fit and pleasing to God, as they used to be in the years long ago.
Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he came and set his people free.
He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,
and in the very house of David his servant,
Just as he promised long ago
through the preaching of his holy prophets:
Deliverance from our enemies
and every hateful hand;
Mercy to our fathers,
as he remembers to do what he said he'd do,
What he swore to our father Abraham—
a clean rescue from the enemy camp,
So we can worship him without a care in the world,
made holy before him as long as we live.
And you, my child, "Prophet of the Highest,"
will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,
Present the offer of salvation to his people,
the forgiveness of their sins.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God's Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.
3-6Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God's Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.
7-8It's not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way from the time I was thrown in jail, put on trial, and came out of it in one piece. All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. He knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does!
9-11So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.
1-6 In the fifteenth year of the rule of Caesar Tiberius—it was while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod, ruler of Galilee; his brother Philip, ruler of Iturea and Trachonitis; Lysanias, ruler of Abilene; during the Chief-Priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—John, Zachariah's son, out in the desert at the time, received a message from God. He went all through the country around the Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:
The Message Revised Contextualized Version
1-6 In the fourth year of the rule of Stephen Harper—it was while Greg Selinger was premier of Manitoba; Harold Foster, reeve of Bifrost; Randy Sigurdson, Mayor of Arborg; during the Papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, and Richard Klassen was Moderator of the EMC—a small and unremarkable group of people, out in the desert at the time, far to the north of where any habitation should be found, were listening intently for a message from God, as others were doing, and as has been done since the dawn of time, even before the world began. They went all through the country around the Icelandic River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:
Thunder in the wilderness!
"Prepare God's arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
Every ditch will be filled in,
Every bump smoothed out,
The detours straightened out,
All the ruts paved over.
Everyone will be there to see
The parade of God's salvation."