Advent 2C: Malachi 3:1-4 – “Anticipation!”

Last April, there was an awesome sight here in the Washington, DC area. The space shuttle Discovery was honored with a fly-over in the most restricted airspace in the nation. I was working that day and couldn’t go stand on the lawn with binoculars where some said they could see it flying off in the distance. But I sat and watched the live broadcast of the Discovery’s flight with a patient who marveled, “I never thought the day would come! I’ve been waiting all week to see this!”

Anticipation. Excitement. Longing for a moment that was coming… these feelings are contained within the words of the prophet Malachi:

1 Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
Who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
He will purify the Levites
and refine them like gold and silver.
They will belong to the Lord,
presenting a righteous offering.
The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
as in ancient days and in former years.
Malachi 3:1-4 CEB

Here in DC we do a lot of waiting. For traffic to clear. For the Red Line train… And especially for a motorcade to pass…

“He’s coming! He’s coming! There he is!”

You hear it when a motorcade flashes down Pennsylvania Avenue. Or you hear, and then see the presidential convoy of helicopters headed north of town to Camp David.

As a chaplain, I’ve also been a part of the contingent anxiously waiting for the LifeFlight chopper to bring in a critically ill patient. Or I stand to one side as the trauma team prepares the room, silently praying for the person being brought in with life-threatening injuries. We strain for the sound of the ambulance’s arrival or for the call, “your patient is here!” To be lackadaisical would be disastrous. Everyone is on their toes… ready.

The promised coming of the Messiah had many undercurrents for the Jews. They had been sent into exile. They had been stripped of their king and their sovereignty. They had rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, but were under heavy occupation. They longed for the One, who would come as a refiner’s fire, to purify the nation, take His place as a just Ruler, and restore them as a nation into the people of “the ancient days.”

There is anticipation mixed with fear. Joy mixed with uncertainty. And perhaps a smidge of anxiety — for they knew that sin and disobedience had to be refined out of them. It would not be easy. And it might even hurt.

But deliverance was on the way. In and through the preparation of the Temple leaders, God prepared to send the Anointed One. But first, those who were leaders would submit to the preparation (and possibly painful changes) that God asked. In the generation since the Temple had been rebuilt there was almost an apathetic response to the call to worship. Maybe their hearts had grown cold. Maybe the stress of serving and working under occupation had jaded them, and their hopes for a Deliverer had faded.

Malachi’s message reminds us – He is coming! “SUDDENLY the Lord whom you are seeking WILL come to his temple.” (v.3:1b)

Are we ready? Is there any sense of excitement or stirring in your soul? That’s the gentle, quiet, bubbling up of the Holy Spirit, preparing us in this season of Advent. Anticipation, in holy awe, at the appearance of the Refiner and Purifier of us all.

Sarah Connolly singing “But who may abide the day of His coming” from Handel’s Messiah.

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