The Great Day
Populus Zion – the 2nd Sunday in Advent – 12/10/2023
Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer
That portion from God’s holy Word for consideration this morning is our Old Testament lesson from the book of the prophet Malachi in the fourth chapter, with special emphasis on verses one through three which read as follows:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.”
Thus far the Scriptures.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Advent is not what many think it is. It is not, primarily speaking, focused on the coming celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus. It is not the ever more frenzied and escalating pre-party for Christmas. It isn’t the generic love, peace, or warm sentimentality that the secular world attaches to this time of the year.
Instead, this season has a three-fold emphasis. In order to understand them more easily, it is good for us to recall that Advent means “arrival” or “coming”. In other words, there are three advents, three arrivals of Jesus that this season of the church year focuses on. Firstly, Advent focuses on the return of Christ in glory to judge both the living and the dead as we confess each week. Secondly, it reminds us of how our Lord Jesus arrives among us through His Word, both in preaching and the sacraments, in order to visit His salvation on us by the power and work of the Holy Spirit. Thirdly, Advent reminds us of the incarnation, that is to say the historical reality of God the Son becoming a man from the womb of the Virgin Mary some 2023 years ago.
Of these three, the one that gets the most mention this time of the year is the third. The reason for this is simple enough. On a basic level, this focus is due to Advent’s proximity to Christmas, which celebrates the birth of our incarnate Lord in fifteen days. People like to think of our Lord Jesus in the manger as a small, cute child. The scenes we paint and carve for our nativities reflect this: everything is clean and bright and gives the sort of sentimental feel of a Terry Redlin painting. But there is a more sinister reason: our sinful flesh prefers the God in the manger, the Babe, to the triumphant Christ who returns again to utter judgement in power and glory because the infant Jesus doesn’t speak. He doesn’t make commands. He doesn’t teach parables or foretell His death. He just sits there, as infants do. This fascination on the infant, incarnate Jesus being silent isn’t a new observation either. That famous Christmas hymn, Away in a Manger, includes this line: “But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”
This is how we sinners like to imagine God. Safe, sweet, and silent. A God who does not speak does not condemn. He makes no moral pronouncements. And our sinful self loves this. This sentiment is behind much of the discomfort the spiritual-but-not-religious set in our society has with Christianity. A silent god is mutable, moldable to take whatever form I wish. Which, at the end of the day, makes god my plaything and reveals the true intent of my heart, that I wish to be God in myself.
There is a certain temptation in wanting a silent God. While it is ultimately untrue that God is silent, it is hard not to see the basic logic in trying to keep God quiet. After all, if God does not speak, then I am not bound. If I am not bound, then there is no competent authority to tell me that I’ve sinned. In other words, the temptation is to think that where God is silent there will be freedom from sin. The idea is that a lack of voicing condemnation leads to a lack of guilt and shame due to sin. Silence means that I stand as someone free of sin.
But this is not the case. Even if God were to be silent about such things, every person has experienced the unfortunate reality of making mistakes, regretting decisions, and knowing that we have done wrong. Even if we ignore what God says about sin and morals and right and wrong, we will still know that we are sinners. What we will lack, rather than freedom from guilt and shame, is the language to describe our state and condition.
But there is something worse than even a silent God who does not speak about sin and death. And that is a God who remains silent about grace and mercy. A silent God who does not condemn is also a silent God who does not love. He cannot speak words to adopt us as sons and heirs. He cannot grant us forgiveness. He is not able to visit on us everlasting life.
A silent God is no God at all. At least, He is no God who cares for us and our lives and concerns.
And this, dear friends, is the context of what Malachi prophecies here at the end of His book. His prophecy deals with the themes of Advent: the Lord who will be born a man to rule and save, the Lord who will visit His salvation on His people, and the Lord who will come in judgement at the end of all things. These themes here are intertwined, just as they are in the season of Advent. And this should not surprise us. After all, the person of our Lord Jesus is one and the same as the one who is born in Bethlehem, whose Word is given to us now, and is the one who will come again in glory.
And when our Lord comes back, it will not be in silence. Matthew records that Jesus’s return will be proclaimed with trumpets. Micah notes that all evil and sin will be burned away as a field of wheat stubble on a hot day in early fall. There is no hiding from this Lord, whatever one may crawl behind or shield himself with will also be burned. There will be nothing withheld from the Lord’s piercing gaze; what He already knows and sees by virtue of His being God will be made obvious to us as we will be laid bare before Him.
For the unrighteous, the unbeliever, this will be a horrifying experience. It will lead to despair and anguish as there is no recourse for their sins that they have committed against the Almighty and their neighbors. And while it will likely not be the most pleasant of experiences to be purified in the fiery judgement of God, you will not receive the return of the Lord with fear and anguish. Malachi says that you will have the joy of a young calf leaping from the stall. If you’ve never seen the joy expressed in the leaps of a calf on the first day of spring when she is turned loose from the barn, you’re really missing out. This joy is like the joy of the faithful. There is no sorrow or anguish, only joy!
And what is the basis of this joy? Well, God is not a silent God, trapped in the manger as a quiet infant. No, He speaks. He speaks to you. He spoke of old to the prophets. He spoke when He became incarnate to fulfill the words given of old to those same prophets. He spoke through the Apostles. Even now, His words come to your ears in the mouth of your pastor, taken from His Word, the Scriptures. God is not silent. His Word continues to ring out over all creation and will continue to do so until the very end of the world.
And what do these words say? They are not for your condemnation, but for your benefit! This word brings to you the gift of faith, which is worked in your heart by the Holy Spirit. This word brings to you the forgiveness of sins, earned for you by our Lord and His bloody death. This word brings life and everlasting salvation. It saves you from sin, death, and the devil because it is Christ and gives you Christ. And this Word, then, stands as the cause of your joy and the reason for your victory. We need not fear the false and silent gods followed by those around us. We need not heed the silent gods made in our own hearts. We have a God who speaks. And His word gives us the standing that we need to endure the last day and to receive the promised new heaven and new earth.
This, dear friends, is what Avent is about. Not sentimentalism. Not consumerism. Nothing so mundane as these things. It is about Christ. His speech. His salvation. His life for you.
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.