Text: Malachi 4:1-6
Bulletin: 12-10-2017 the Second Sunday in Advent
Hard words were spoken by the Lord through the prophet Malachi. Malachi was one of the last writing prophets of the Old Testament and his book is the last. He prophesied and wrote about two generations after the return from exile. Worship in the temple was restored, along with all its various feasts and festivals. The sacrifices and offerings for sin had resumed. Yet, in that short time, God’s people had nearly forgotten Him. For both the lay person and priest, apathy, and even contempt, for God had become regular. They offered blemished sacrifices and kept the best for themselves. The priests taught falsely and gossiped. Lay people, in turn, fell back into idolatry. They withheld their offerings from God. They all figured, if God hadn’t punished them by now, maybe they were okay. What does St. Peter say? That with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day.
The Lord is patient, not desiring His wrath to fall on anyone. Rather, He desires that they turn from sin and live. Therefore, He waits. Someday soon, though, the waiting will stop, and the Day of the Lord will come. The Lord spoke through Malachi in the verse just before our text, “Once more you shall know the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not.” The Lord says the day is coming when the sun of righteousness will rise. For we who fear His name, it will mean leaping like calves dashing out of the stall. Today we confess that Christ, the sun of righteousness, has risen upon us in His incarnation and will lead us out like calves from the stall on the great and awesome day of the Lord.
Malachi prophesied after the children of Israel were returned to their homeland. You know the history here. Because of their wickedness and idolatry, God’s people were handed over to Babylon and kept in exile for 70 years as God’s judgement. After those years had passed, just as God promised, He returned them to their own land. He kept and preserved them in all that time, and many of them even prospered while in exile – men like Daniel and Nehemiah. Yet, after God brought them back, things still weren’t okay. They were, for a time, under faithful leaders like Ezra, and others. But overall, the heart of the people began drifting back into paganism and unbelief.
And so, the Lord sent Malachi. As we recounted already, apathy was common among both layman and priest. A good chunk of this book is given to words of condemnation for those wicked priests, although the people were not left out. God condemned them for robbing Him by holding back their tithes and contributions. But, in the midst of this preaching of the Law there was also the Gospel. In chapter 3, God promised to send a messenger to prepare the way of the Messiah. We know that is John the Baptist. Then, again, in our text God promised to send Elijah before His great day. When the disciples asked Jesus about this, He told them, “All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” And, if John is that messenger of God who would prepare the way of the Lord, that makes Jesus the Lord.
That’s the truth. In Jesus, the sun of righteousness has risen upon us. Jesus came with gifts of healing, forgiveness, and peace, and to be the light in this dark world. At the right time, in the right place, Christ the Son of God took on our human flesh and was born of the virgin Mary. He preached and taught the Good News of God: that by His wounds we are healed. No longer are we enslaved to sin and death. By His death, our debt was paid. By His resurrection, His disarmed death and put both it and the devil to open shame. They will not defeat those who fear His name.
Jesus came with gifts of pardon, peace and rest. In the Incarnation, the sun of righteousness dawned upon us with healing in His wings. We live, here and now, in the forgiveness of sins and in a confident hope of life eternal. Even so, the sun has not fully dawned upon us. As is often true in the prophets, more than one day is talked about at the same time in this text. As with God’s people throughout time, we await a yet more glorious day. We await the day when Christ our savior will come on the clouds of heaven. We wait for it eagerly, because we experience all the sin and evil in this world, and in ourselves. We are taught by the Lord here to observe the law of Moses until He comes, but we daily transgress against it. As those redeemed by Christ, we desire not to sin – but we still constantly fall. We also bear the scorn of the wicked and evildoers. There are many who ridicule us for gathering together, who tempt us to do otherwise. They say that our prayers are not heard and that we should stop. But we won’t.
Our Lord will return. This is what the angels promised at the Ascension, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven, this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go.” St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ, our dear Lord, said Himself at the end of Revelation, “Surely I am coming soon.” The day that Christ returns will be the great and awesome day of the Lord. Then, the sun of righteousness will fully dawn and shine on us. Then, as our Lord said, will our redemption be drawn fully near. But all the arrogant and all evildoers will be reduced to stubble and be left without root or branch.
All those who have despised the Lord and hated His appearing, all those who spurned His Word and scorned us who believe in it; they will be gathered together as well. Whereas we and all the faithful will be gathered together and enter with joy into the eternal wedding feast, they will enter with shame and sorrow into eternal punishment. As Jesus said, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” For those who have loved His appearing, even for us, that great and awesome day will be the day when we go out leaping like calves from the stall.
At His return, though we have forgiveness now, then we shall be fully purified. At His return, though we have the hope of eternal life now, then shall we be fully free. At His return, though we have protection from sin and evil now, then we shall be fully delivered from all evil. Then, like the Greek OT says in verse 2, we will skip for joy. Like calves from the stall, we will skip for joy for being finally delivered from all sin, death, and from the devil.
In some ways, then, our whole lives are like one big Advent season. Like the faithful in Malachi’s time, we are waiting for the great and awesome day of the Lord, when He will finally come and deliver us. Yet, in this time of waiting, the sun of righteousness has risen upon us with the forgiveness of sins. By His death on the cross and rising again, our sins are forgiven here and now, and we have the hope of our own resurrection to eternal life. May the Lord grant us a continued blessed Advent, both in 2017 and beyond, while we wait for our day to go leaping like the calves.
 2 Pet. 3:8.
 Mal. 3:18, English Standard Version.
 Matt. 11:13-14.
 Acts 1:11.
 Phil. 3:20.
 Rev. 22:20.
 Jn. 3:19.