Scott Sanders launches our Advent series by getting lost in the bush and finding the humble path - at expense of his pride.
Grace Lung studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is a Research Fellow with the Centre for Asian Christianity at the Brisbane School of Theology.
Today's reading is Malachi 2:17-3:12
“We’re being swamped…”
“They’re gaming the system”
“They’re taking our jobs”
I feel uncomfortable when I hear these sentiments.
Are they afraid of people like me?
My parents were part of the early waves of migrants after multiculturalism was introduced. They endured remarks like these made against them. While I’m thankful that these sentiments seem to be directed at my community less and less, the same cannot be said of those coming to our shores now as refugees, migrants or international workers. Aside from outright statements, these sentiments often manifest in quiet and subtle ways such as unconscious bias, stereotyping and silencing.
Fear causes people to hold tightly to what we have; to withhold hospitality, generosity and compassion because there is a need to protect and provide for our own. Fear leads people to withhold what is truly God’s. Many in the post-exilic community in Malachi did not fear God. They gave unacceptable sacrifices. They feared the Other. Corruption and injustice was prevalent. They wondered where God was in the injustice (2:18).
And yet, the verse confronts me with these rhetorical questions: “Who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when he appears?”. The answer is no-one. We are all imperfect. My own community is made up of people who had fearful, unwelcoming sentiments used against them. Yet we can pass on the pain. We who were foreigners and who sometimes continue to be treated as foreigners today, have uttered the same sentiments toward others. People across time, including the Israelite people (those before and after their exile) and we in Australia today fail to listen to God’s word and do not fear Him. Rather, we fear each other and our circumstances. The problem is a universal one.
But there is hope. As we see in the pages just after Malachi, the Messenger of the covenant arrives. Through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, hope is in sight as he addresses the problem within us. God will refine and purify. While this process is painful, it is purposeful. In this way, acceptable offerings will once again be made to God through Christ.
Now, God graciously invites people to return to Him. As post-exilic Israel is called to give what is truly God’s, God will take care of the very things people are fearful of and holding onto tightly. He promises to be the protector and provider – to pour out abundant and overflowing blessing on them (v10-12). By fearing God only, we avoid being consumed by fear of each other and our circumstances. In this way, we can live godly lives as we care for the marginalised: the weak, vulnerable and the foreigner; and to share in the abundant blessing showered upon us by Him.
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17 You have wearied the Lord with your words.
“How have we wearied him?” you ask.
You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the Lord’s sight, and he is pleased with them. You have wearied him by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
The Coming Day of Judgment
3 “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
2 “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. 3 He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. 4 Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.
5 “At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
A Call to Repentance
6 “I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed. 7 Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
“But you ask, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’
8 “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!
“But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. 9 You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 12 “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.