Today is an anomaly. Although tomorrow is the fourth Sunday in Advent, it is also on Christmas Eve, which makes today the last full day of Advent for the year 2017. It is an oddity in the Christian calendar that only happens every so many years. It is a time the drives most people in the church crazy, because Sunday morning is still Advent with its reflection, patient waiting, and inward looking, but then, as soon as church is over, the Altar Guild, the choirs, the priest, and many of the congregation, change gears so swiftly it’s almost like going from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds. Still, we have this one more full day to contemplate Advent, and today’s reading from Malachi seems to be an apt one, especially given the physical, economic, and political climate in the world these days.
Many people will not read very far in this passage from Malachi without having something start in their heads from Messiah, the masterful oratorio of Georg Friedrich Handel who wrote that majestic work incorporating passages from Old Testament prophets and the gospellers of the New Testament plus a few others. It is one thing that I enjoy most about Advent, because I often hear bits and pieces of Messiah on the radio or I turn it in on my iPod to listen to the whole thing. I may hear it again at Easter, but the Christmas part is what I enjoy the most.
Part of the reading from Malachi appears in two places, one a recitative and aria for a bass who sings of a messenger coming to prepare the way for the Messiah and questioning, “Who may abide the day of his coming?” The bass continues with singing of a refiner’s fire and Fuller soap, methods of cleansing and purification. It does not say literally that people will be subjected to fire and very rough scrubbings, but that purification is needed to achieve righteousness which is what God asks of God’s people. Halfway through verse two a choir continues with the chorale, “And he shall purify,” a vocally difficult piece with a lot of vocal gymnastics and counterpoint but also with a hopeful note when it comes to “…an offering in righteousness.” the newly cleansed people of God.
Reading this piece of Malachi and observing how apt it seems to be for our time, I wonder, what would Jesus say if he were here now? It seems every day things look a little worse. With the sexual scandals, harassment, policies and budgets being made that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, it seems to be counter-Christian, although it supported by so many who purport to be Christians. I wonder, where is the disconnect?
Jesus preached often on the necessity for taking care of those who are marginalized by society, were powerless, and who had no resources with which to take care of themselves. Malachi, like Jesus, spoke of the widows and orphans, but Malachi also mentioned those who took advantage of those who worked for them, the aliens, and those who look to make themselves rich at the expense of others. It does not seem to have changed very much in the last year or so, and it seems that we will probably see worse to come. The land will be raped even further, those who depend on the land will be further impoverished, and the captains of capitalism will make even more money than they have previously, meanwhile treating their employees almost with scorn. Somehow, I do not think Jesus would be pleased.
During Advent, we’ve been considering how we best serve God by helping God’s children to better lives and purification of our own lives by discovering what we need to change in ourselves and in our environment. We really could have used another whole week of Advent rather than just a few hours, but there’s still time. It would be good if we could end this Advent with a renewed enthusiasm for and dedication to causes that help lift those who have been trampled down and encourage those who have built their own mountains of gold to share with those who need it the most.
With the joy of Christmas so close, it might be tempting to jump ahead and start celebrating without finishing the Advent work that we have been doing. We remember that Joseph and Mary were immigrants to the town of Bethlehem, with no house to come home to, probably few resources monetarily, and little or no possibility of finding shelter any place. Still, on Christmas Eve we celebrate that Jesus was born and laid in a food trough used by animals. No golden cradle, silk wall hangings, no gold columns, rich fabrics, thick carpets, and impressive furnishings. Jesus came as a man of the people, not the elite. That was part of his power, because people could relate to him, an itinerant preacher in his later life, who was not ostentatious yet compelling in his speech and way of living.
So, on this last full day of Advent, I look ahead, and I will wish every one of you a very Merry Christmas, a happy holiday season, the blessing of grace from God our Father and Mother, and a renewed sense of purpose to bring the kingdom of God to earth now.
Image: By Bubamara (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons