Let us pray: Holy and mystic God, as we await the coming of the Christ child in this season of Advent, we hold fast to your promise of your unfailing love. As we await the coming of Christ, during this season of Advent, we remember that you have created us in your image and have called us to bear your light in this all too often dark world. Grant us grace and peace as we wait for you. Grant us strength and courage to rise up and to share the good news of Christ. O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
Elie Weisel, the Jewish writer and Nobel peace prize winner, recalled a childhood story. When he was a boy, his mother would greet him every day when he returned from school. Every day she would ask him the same question. She did not ask, “What did you do today?” or “Whom did you talk to today?” or even “What did you learn today?” She would ask, “Did you have a good question, today?” (Deborah H. Block in Feasting on the Word, Year C Volume 1).
While most of my teachers always taught, “There is no such thing as a bad question,” we, in general, have been taught not to ask questions. We do not question our parents or our elders because that would be rude. We do not question priests, pastors, and church leaders; they are called by God. Yet, as we read the Bible, we find ourselves confronted by questions: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asks God in the book of Genesis (4:9). The Israelites complained against Moses in the wilderness, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock?” (Exodus 17:3); the psalmist cries out in lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). So, it should not surprise us that the minor prophet, Malachi, asks 22 questions in just 55 verses.
The book of Malachi opens with the people of Judah asking God, “How have you loved us (1:2)? After speaking charges against the people of Israel, Malachi asks, “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us” (2:10)? After going back and forth, the people of Israel ask, “How have we wearied [God]” (2:17)? The questions, throughout the book of Malachi, provide a means of candid conversation between the prophet, who is speaking on behalf of God, and the people of Israel. These questions provide space to talk about the nature of God and the conduct of Israel.
In the passage that we heard this morning, Malachi announces that God is sending a messenger to prepare the way and that the LORD whom the people seek will come suddenly to the temple, and then Malachi asks two questions, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (3:2). These are not the only questions asked of us in the lectionary texts for this second Sunday of Advent. In his opening salutation to the church at Philippi, Paul eludes to the fact that one of the reasons he is writing is because the church at Philippi has questions about what the best practices are for them so that in the day of Christ they may be found blameless (1:10); in the gospel text from Luke, the gospel writer provides a statement about the person who is called to prepare the way by repentance and forgiveness (3:1-6).
This season of Advent is one of preparing our hearts and our lives for the coming of Christ, and it is a season that questions us: our worthiness, our readiness, and our willingness for Christ to come (Deborah Hall). Prior to our passage in Malachi today, we find that the covenant between God and the priests of Levi has been corrupted. In response, God declares that he will send a messenger to prepare the way, a messenger who will refine and purify. We hear that in order to live fully into covenant with God, we must first be refined and purified. Like the people of Israel and the priests of Levi, we are called, during this season of Advent to allow the message of God to refine and to purify our lives in order that we, in response, may offer back to God our lives lived in goodness, righteousness, justice and mercy.
So, on this second Sunday in Advent, let us spend some asking questions. Where do we direct our prayers? Do we pray for clear weather so we can get our pre-holiday errands run? Do we pray that when Amazon says 2-day shipping, they mean two days? In the midst of our own busy-ness do we remember to pray for people in California who have lost their homes and communities in wild fires? Do we remember to pray for our leaders as they discern what to do about an arms deal with Saudi Arabia that has the potential to end a war in Yemen? Do we pause and trust God with our anxieties, hurts, and sadness we often experience in this time of the year?
Advent is a time for us to reflect: to reflect on where we have ignored God’s judgment, to reflect on those places in our lives where we have accepted lies as truth, where we have exploited others, where we have abused the earth, and where we have refused God’s justice and peace (Deborah Block).
Already in our worship together this morning, we have prayed to our Covenant God asking to help us endure the mirror of the prophets’ message as we are cleansed and refined in order that we might see Christ when he suddenly appears. We have prayed, in the words of Charles Wesley: “Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set our people free, from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.” In a few minutes, we will celebrate the sacrament of communion together. As a people we will pray for God’s spirit to come down on us and onto ordinary gifts of grain and fruit. Through God’s spirit, we will pray to experience the real presence of Emmanuel—God with us in order that through the breaking of bread and sharing of cup, we, fractured and imperfect as we are, may be united perfectly as the body of Christ, in order that we may continue to bear God’s light and share God’s word until we are made entirely perfect in God’s love and we feast together with God’s church universal.
Georg Friedrich Handel, following the first presentation of The Messiah in London wrote to a friend, “I shall be sorry if I only entertained them. I wished to make them better.” (Deborah Block). What about us? What do we seek as we wait for the coming of the Christ child? Do we seek entertainment or edification? Diversion or Direction? Do we crave amusement or awareness? Handel provided a response. Even though he was blind by 1751, he conducted Messiah at an annual event at Foundling Hospital in London until his death. Foundling Hospital served mostly widows and orphans of clergy. His intent was not just to entertain; but his hope was to make them just and better people. Handel’s ear was open to the word of Malachi and he “presented an offering to the LORD in righteousness.” As we continue towards the birth and coming of Christ, let us also question and examine our lives in order that we may live as good and just witnesses for our God. May it be so.