Second Sunday of Advent Study

ADVENT 2   12-05-2021

FIRST READING:   Malachi 3:1-4

Some historical perspective.

It must have felt like a dream. After so many years in the foreign land of Babylon as a defeated and exiled people (the first deportation had occurred in 605BC, the second deportation had occurred in 597BC, and the third deportation and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple had occurred in 586BC), the Jewish people of the southern kingdom of Judah were allowed to return to their homeland. They were released from captivity when Babylon was itself conquered and became part of the Mede-Persian Empire. The first and main party returned in 538BC under a leader named Zerubbabel (a descendant of King David and ancestor of Jesus Christ) and “rebuilt” a second, smaller, and less glorious version of the Temple that Solomon had built. Under the priestly leadership of Ezra, a second wave of Jews returned 80 years later, in 448BC; Ezra worked at spiritual restoration and reform.

Then there was a third wave of Jews that returned under the leadership of Nehemiah (a Persian king’s cupbearer) in 445BC; Nehemiah’s focus was on repairing Jerusalem’s walls and gates.

The prophet (Malachi means “my messenger”, so is this the name of a person or the title of the person’s mission?) was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah. Malachi was called to revive a people who had long since lost their optimism after returning from exile… who no longer had much hope that they would ever be restored to prestige and glory as God’s nation… who could not see that God loved them… who felt that serving God brought no reward… and who therefore had a lukewarm faith that was apparent in “going through the motions” worship and “bending the rules” covenant obedience in various aspects of daily living. The priests withheld the best animals from the sacrifice, the people got tired of waiting for the Messiah, Jewish men too easily married women of other religions, divorce was more prevalent, and tithes to God were skimped from a full tenth.

So the prophet Malachi challenged the people using a question-answer form of dialogue. Seven questions or complaints by the people are raised in the book. However, God’s voice dominates. It is the voice of a loving father pleading with his children. The book is short. Take a little time to read and reflect on it.

In today’s reading the prophet speaks of a messenger, a forerunner, who will precede the Lord of hosts when he comes on the great day of judgment. That messenger will prepare the way by purifying and refining God’s people, as silver and gold are refined. The prophet Malachi says that God “is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap” (verse 2). How has God been working to refine and purify your life or your community of faith? 

In Malachi 2:17, just before today’s reading, the prophet declares, “You have wearied the Lord with your words.”  How have you and I and the community of faith wearied the Lord in word or in deed? What still needs burning and cleansing?

The Gospels show that Jesus regarded this prophecy of a messenger fulfilled by John the Baptist (see Mark 9:11-13). In what ways did John the Baptist fulfill Malachi’s prophecy? 

The book of Malachi offers the last Old Testament voice. Some have said that Malachi was the last prophet until the time of Christ, about 400 years later.

“Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” YOU can – if you will turn to Jesus Christ in humble repentance, trusting faith, and sincere obedience. 

 

SECOND READING:   Philippians 1:3-11

Paul was in prison because of his Christian faith, most likely in Rome, when he wrote this letter. The church in Philippi – the first one in Europe – was one that Paul helped to create, perhaps around twelve years before this letter, on his second missionary journey. In today’s reading, at the beginning of the letter, Paul writes about his joy and his thanksgiving to be in partnership with the Philippian Christians. Note the absence of any bitterness and anxiety from a man who is not free, who does not know what awaits him in the future. Paul experiences God’s grace sustaining him. Paul experiences a strong connection to these Christians that lifts his spirit. And he prays that these brothers and sisters will continue to grow in their love and in their knowledge of how to show love in pure, blameless, and righteous ways. Twice in today’s reading Paul speaks of “the day of  Jesus Christ” – something that he and other early Christians expected to happen sooner rather than later – and he is encouraging these Christians and praying that they will be faithful in their living and fervent in their loving to the very end.

Who are your partners in the gospel that you are grateful for? For what do you pray concerning them? How might you thank them?

What Paul writes reminds us of the truth that love is not just an emotion, it’s also an action verb. So it’s important to pray for guidance from God’s Word and God’s Spirit and God’s Son to help direct us in our loving. If we think about our own lives, we might understand what Paul is saying here. Have you ever tried to express and show love, only to find that it was either ineffective or even hurtful.

Every Christian is a partner in the love of Christ. Our readiness for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, or for “going home” at the end of our earthly journey, is seen in the love and commitment we have for each other. We have each moment and every day for the rest of our life to practice.

 

GOSPEL READING:  Luke 3:1-6

On the Second Sunday of Advent each year, it’s time for John the Baptist to reappear in our worship. Luke is careful to place the prophetic ministry of John in the midst of human history by referring to names of important persons and dates, both political and religious. Luke believed that the emergence of John the Baptist and the coming of Jesus was an important turning point in human history – a key moment. And this coming Lord would soon prove to be a challenge to political and religious authority… as well as the ways and the values of this world.

John the Baptist’s task, referencing the passage from Isaiah, was to level mountains, fill in valleys, and construct a straight and smooth pathway for the Lord. Today’s reading ends too early. John the Baptist fulfilled his mission of preparation for God’s advent, God’s coming, by humbling the exalted and exalting the humble. He humbled the proud with a withering blast; he exalted the humble by speaking of justice and even generosity.

As we will be reminded next week when we continue in Luke 3, the Baptist’s activity was only preparation. As we will be reminded next week, he expected judgment – an axe chopping down, a winnowing fork separating, an unquenchable fire burning up. He was right about thinking of himself as one helping to get things ready. He was wrong about imagining all that “hellfire and brimstone” foundation in the Lord that was coming. And he was right to call his listeners, as well as you and me, to repent – that is, to make a U-turn in our lives away from our sinful, straying, stumbling steps in the wilderness of our lives and world BACK TO GOD – to think right, say right, do right, and be right.

Can you think of a “John the Baptist” person in your life who helped confront you and “turn you around” sometime along the journey? How are you right now preparing the way of the Lord? Who might you reach out to in invitation and encouragement? 

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