Saturday, December 02, 2006

Preaching Malachi 3:1-4 (RCL: Year C, Advent 2)

Warm thanks to all for the huge response to my posts for Advent 1. Do send along links to any homilies you end up posting, so we can link to them from this site! Now, on to the second Sunday of Advent and its appointed text: Malachi 3:1-4.

the prophet MalachiDo not panic! Yes, this is an apocalyptic text, and yes it does contain a certain theme of judgment, but do not flee. For good reason, Advent is a time for us to consider apocalyptic words. What is more, the judgment here in Malachi manifests itself beautifully as grace. Please give this text a chance.

The RCL lectionary gives the following wise word of guidance on the apocalyptic nature of Advent season: The structure of the Christmas cycle presumes an Advent which is basically eschatological (looking forward to the return or second coming of the Lord Jesus and the realization of the reign of God) more than a season of preparation for Christmas (which recalls his first coming among us). Wow! How many people in pews would be familiar with this from their experience of homilies and sermons actually preached in Advent? It is my hope that together we can all start to change that...

As for the appropriateness of tackling "judgment" in Advent season, consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer's thoughts on this in an Advent sermon, delivered in Barcelona in 1928. Here are some excerpts:

It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked on earth....

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us....

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace...
fullers' soap

Bonhoeffer's sermon does not specifically mention Malachi, but it reads as a virtual theological exposition of it! The cleansing and sanctifying for which Bonhoeffer longs is strikingly expressed in the images of smelting and scrubbing in our passage. I hope to dive into these details and to look more closely at our text's background and theological provenance in coming posts. Stay tuned...

2 Comments:

Blogger Peter said...

Steve,

Thanks for this work to reclaim judgement (oops, -added the 'e' - too much reading of Brits)...

I preached on Christ the King Sunday on the John scene with Pilate and did some work on judgement, especially borrowing a bit from Rowan Williams' book, The Trial of Christ: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement. It was great to do some work on John's trial scene as the liturgical year ended.

I agree with the RCL's statement about Advent being a time to really get into the Eschatological mode of thinking about the return of Christ to the world. The prophets such as Malachi (and Baruch - I am actually preaching on Baruch - the other RCL 'track') get at this so well...

Anyway the message that we will be judged and we are alway being judged is a message that we DO need to hear, though it is difficult to hear. The good news in all this, is that the one who comes to judge us is the one who loves us, that with judgement there is also grace, that with the visions of apocalypse, there are signs of hope ... Now, back to Baruch...

More later...

Fri Dec 08, 03:44:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Peter, Thank you so much for your good comments. When you're done with Baruch, please send me a copy so I can post it on-line. All the readers would really appreciate it. Good luck with it! ---S.

Fri Dec 08, 03:51:00 PM GMT-5  

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