“The Good News of Advent?”

Malachi 3:1-4

Luke 3:1-6

December 7, 2003

 

In Hebrew, it's basowrah, in Greek, euangelion, and in English, "good news".  Whatever language we say it in, its meaning is the same - it's the Gospel - God's message of salvation to the world.  Certainly, Christmas is a huge part of the good news for us.  Second only to Easter, Christmas stands as part of the great centerpiece of the Christian faith with its proclamation that in Jesus Christ the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. 

And so, from the biggest cities to the to the smallest villages, Christians are preparing themselves to celebrate one of the greatest moments in human history, when God's time and our time intersected in the most radical yet inconspicuous way in a small town called Bethlehem, when the good news of God's message of salvation came as a shining light of hope to a darkened and broken world in the birth of a baby named Jesus.  One can certainly see in the Christmas story why the good news is called good, because the Gospel is good news for us. 

Meanwhile, the lectionary scripture readings used in our churches during the season of Advent seem so strangely out of place.  They seem not to be very good news, not the kind of words you would expect to find in a Hallmark Christmas greeting card.  The words of the prophet Malachi and the wild-eyed John the Baptist strike a chord against all that we want to hear during the Christmas season, like finger nails screeching down a black board, putting to the test all of those easy, sentimental thoughts and feelings we have about what the good news is to us.  One might even believe that the group who put the lectionary readings together play the part of Ebenezer Scrooge in their off time.  Talk about the Grinch who stole Christmas.  

First, there is Malachi, who announces his message to the people of Israel of the coming of the Messiah, who will come like the fire of a refiner's furnace to burn away the impurities out of human life, and like the powerful soap of a launderer's washing machine will wash out the most grievous and ground in stains.

And then there is John the Baptist, the man from the desert wilderness, who proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of signs, who comes with a message about the One coming who will fill every valley, flatten every mountain, straighten all that is crooked, and make the rough ways smooth. 

These are not quite the messages we expect to hear as we put up our Christmas trees, hang up our Christmas lights, and wrap our presents.  This is a time when we prefer to hear the words to Deck the Halls or Jingle Bells, and have dreams of sugarplums dancing in our heads.  These messages sound more like…judgment.  I thought Advent was a time of preparation and eager anticipation for the return of the Messiah, not apprehension.  Can this really be the word of God for us today, can this good news of Advent really be good news for us?  Well, it all depends on what kind of Messiah we are waiting for.

My friends, millions of people will pour into Christ's church this Advent and Christmas and never reflect upon the risks and dangers associated with the Savior's coming.  They will ponder over the cute but mute baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, and not think about the voice of the mature Messiah, who challenges and pushes all that we are, all that we do, and all that we believe, who refines us and purifies us with the fire of the Holy Spirit melting away all that is shallow, superficial, and self-serving in our hearts producing a people of much stronger mettle, who washes and cleanses us with the water of life until we are as white as Christ's own glory, until we are made new again.

We may prefer a Messiah tailored to our own thoughts, feelings, and preferences.  After all it is much easy and safer for us to keep God contained in our own comfortable lives, or see God as a kind of warm, fuzzy presence like a warm fire in a fire place that we sit close to get warmed up.  If this is the kind of Messiah we are waiting for, then we truly are a people most to be pitied.  At some point we, the church, have to make a decision about what we believe, and we must find the courage of our convictions about who we believe in.  Either our God is the God created in our image, or our God is the God who created us in His image. 

I for one, believe in the God who created us in His image, for that is the only God, the only Savior, who is powerful enough, faithful enough, and merciful enough to overturn the injustices of this world, to melt down the weapons of war into instruments of peace and prosperity, to reconcile our broken relationships, to restore our sick, crippled, diseased bodies, to save this world that is still in desperate need of God's loving justice and just love, and to make the dead live again.

God's word to us from Malachi and from John the Baptist are indeed the basowrah, the euangelion, the "good news" of God's message of salvation, because they tell us what has already happened, is happening, and will happen in the world.  They stand as a testimony to the divine intervention in human history that has taken place in the past, is taking place now, and will take place in the future. 

We stand in these in between times, in the already and not yet, but we can be assured that God is at work even now in Jesus Christ through waters of baptism to bring us to fulfillment, to perfection, to completion.  Like the goldsmith who puts the gold back into the fire over and over again, until all the impurities are gone, until he can see the reflection of his face in the gold, so too is God at work refining us, until he can see the reflection of his face in your face and mine, until all of us reflect the diving glory of the One who is coming soon, until all of us see the salvation of God.  Amen.