“... and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.” – Malachi 3:1-4 (ESV)
Ahh … advent in Singapore! The decorations are up. Orchard road is lighted up. Shop assistants are decked out in “Santa” outfits. Merchandise are everywhere offered for “Christmas Sale”. Come spent your money and save! Woe is us – if that’s the extent of our preparation for the coming of the Lord.
In the last book of the Old Testament, a good 400 or more years before the dawn of the New Testament, we hear a message from the prophet Malachi. It’s a strange message. It sounds like it came from another planet.
Malachi proclaims that a holy messenger is on the way. This announcement brings with it both a promise and a word of warning. Is the “messenger” in this text a prophet? An angelic being? Or, is it the “LORD of hosts” himself? These three different names are mentioned in verse 1 alone. Do these different names belong to three distinct figures, one divine and one human figure, or three different names of one figure?
Regardless of the messenger, the message itself is clear: the Lord of Hosts is coming. This message is meant to spark a period of purification and refinement. It is a necessary process to prepare the people, after their exile, for the worship of God in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. The “messenger of the covenant” envisions the renewal of the priesthood that will restore the office to its historic holiness, providing for proper and faithful worship.
Our modern day proclamation (and preparation, if we do any) appears to be completely dissimilar to the one advocated by Malachi. The world’s proclamation and preparations are often of sweet baby Jesus surrounded by choirs of angels and placid sheep around the manger. Jesus brings serenity, peace on earth, goodwill to all. And while we can affirm that the coming of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, is good news of great joy for all people, this does not mean that Christ’s presence demands nothing of us or leaves us unchanged. Like a refiner’s fire and cleansing soap, the arrival of Christ in our midst calls us to reverent obedience and faithful praise. The good news is indeed that we will not be left unchanged but will be reformed and refined to become like Christ.
The prophet Malachi raises a challenge for each of us. As we proclaim Christ’s coming with advent expectation, the promise of Christ’s arrival should prompt us to self-reflection and self- examination.
Pastor Robert Chew