The text that we will consider this morning is our Old Testament reading from Malachi 3, but especially this verse, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
Is it just me or do you also find that recurring theme of the season of Advent so far is that the ‘Lord is coming, and that’s NOT GOOD NEWS.
“Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” says the prophet Malachi. It’s a rhetorical question. NO ONE ‘can stand when he appears.’ EVERYONE will either fall to their knees or fall to their death. It’s more like a notice to evacuate in the face of an approaching hurricane than an invitation to come to a banquet.
“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways…” says the prophet Isaiah. Which makes the Lord’s coming sound more like a unstoppable bulldozer tearing things up than a good farmer who comes to sow seed on every kind of soil – rocky, thorny, hard-packed, as well as good.
“You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” How’s that for a Christmas greeting? I don’t think you’d find that one in the “how to be an inviting church” book. I thought about greeting you all this morning like that. Instead of “the Lord be with you,” I was going to say, “You brood of vipers.” But I knew you would have replied, “and also with you.”
“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” says John the Baptist. John pictures the coming of the Lord as a some sort of cosmic sized Paul Bunyan, swinging His double bladed axe, clearing the forest of every tree in it and hacking out even the roots and building the biggest bonfire the world has ever known out of all of it. Not exactly the warm, fuzzy picture of the good shepherd leading his sheep.
Is it just me or do you also find that the prophet’s word during this season of Advent is more than just a bit threatening?
And so I wonder, what did we just ask for when we prayed, “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, and MAKE READY the way of Your only-begotten Son…” I thought that Advent was all about ‘stirring up our hearts’ so that we might get into the ‘Christmas spirit.’
But now I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t a much more dangerous prayer to pray that I ever imagined. “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, and make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son…” “whose coming I will not endure, whose Word will level me, who will cut me down and throw me into the fire, you little viper you.” Did we actually just pray that the Lord would “stir up our hearts” for this?
Part of the problem is that we are hardly ‘STIRRED UP’ by anything these days.
• We’ve seen so much violence and destruction on TV and at the movies that what would have ‘stirred us up’ 20 years ago, but that hardly phases us at all now.
• Likewise, the sexual immorality that would have ‘stirred up’ a dose of shame in us hardly 10 years ago hardly causes us to blush.
• Many say that they believe in God and even confess that Jesus is Lord, yet it’s hard to ‘stir them up’ to come to church.
• Even we who are here and receive the gifts of God in His Word and Sacraments, how much do we let these gifts ‘stir us up’ to the point that we leave here determined to amend our sinful life and “make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son”?
The prophet warns that the Lord’s coming will be for us “like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap.” Not exactly the “well done good and faithful servant” greeting that we were hoping for.
“I just had to come down from heaven to see the good work that I’ve heard you’ve been doing.” NO. It’s, ‘to the furnace with you, because there’s a lot of impurities that need to be sweat out of you before you’re ready to come home with Me.’
“To the wash tub with you. You’re badly stained and blemished and every one needs to be scrubbed off of you before you’re ready to meet My Father and Your Father.” “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2).
See what I mean about the season of Advent? It sounds as if the “Lord’s Coming” is not “GOOD NEWS” but something that you better brace yourself for like someone who lives in the path of an incoming hurricane.
If there’s one thing that season of Advent seems to want to make perfectly clear, it’s that the Lord’s coming is NOT to put His stamp of approval on the status quo. When He comes, things are going to change around here.
And if we had our head on straight, we’d welcome the change that He comes to bring. But we don’t.
We do not like change, especially when it’s forced on us. We confess that we are ‘sinful and unclean’ and therefore not ‘HOLY’ as ‘GOD IS HOLY.’ But that doesn’t mean we want to be changed. We’ve learned to adapt to our environment and survive in sub-standard world, to the point that, at times, we can actually sit back and say, ‘LIFE IS GOOD.’
So when we hear that that the Lord is coming into this world to CHANGE US and CHANGE THIS WORLD, we wonder, ‘where’s the GOOD NEWS in that?’ We think it would be a whole lot better and a whole lot easier if the Lord would CHANGE and lower His expectations and ACCEPT REALITY.
And so, the really HARD WORD that we hear from the prophet Malachi this morning is this, ‘NOT A CHANCE!’ “For I the Lord do not change…” “I am who I am.” “My WILL is what My WILL has always been and will always be. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
You cannot not change My Word to make it say what I have never said, because “I the Lord do not change…” I hate what I have always hated and I will always hate it. I love what I have always loved “for my love does not change.”
“You cannot bend my Law to make it demand what I have never demanded and permit what I have always forbidden.” “I will be just and justice will be done because I love justice and hate evil and “I the Lord do not change….”
• We say, ‘but THINGS CHANGE.’ But God says, “I the Lord do not change…”
• We say, ‘I know this is against God’s Word, but He’ll understand.” But He says, “I the Lord do not change…”
And then just when we expect the next words out of His mouth to be, “therefore you, O children of Jacob, ARE CONSUMED,” what do we hear? “Therefore you, O children of Jacob, are NOT consumed.”
And now we’re really confused.
How is it that the children of Jacob are NOT CONSUMED by the Lord’s unchangeable demand for holiness and righteousness? Because, O children of Jacob, if you know anything at all about your father, you know that he was certainly no saint. Jacob had a reputation for being quite a ‘deceiver.’ He deceived his father Isaac into thinking he was really his brother Esau and deceived his brother Esau out of his birthright.
And then there comes a day when the Lord ‘suddenly’ comes to Jacob. And it’s not a pleasant meeting. The bible describes it as an ‘all night brawl.’
It’s not hard to picture the scene. The ‘man’ hurls accusation after accusation against Jacob. And Jacob knows that every one of them is true and every blow hits Jacob squarely. And after a whole night of this, Jacob, who had trusted so much in his ability to ‘deceive’ realizes that he cannot ‘deceive’ the Lord. And he thinks, “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?”
But for every knock out blow that Jacob suffers from the angel, Jacob counters with, “BUT YOU PROMISED….” “You promised my father Isaac and his father Abraham that you would bless them AND THEIR OFFSPRING.” “And You do not change.”
“You made a covenant with my grandfather Abraham to bless him and his offspring and You established that covenant with my father Isaac. And I am his offspring. And so I will not let go of you until you bless me, because I know that “You do not change.”
And we read, “And there He blessed Him.” (Gen.32:29).
The Lord gave His Promise to Abraham and Isaac. And Jacob leaned wholly on the unchangeable nature of God’s Word. For just as His WORD OF LAW cannot be changed, neither can His WORD OF PROMISE. “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are NOT consumed.”
But there is one child of Jacob who IS CONSUMED. The baby born of Mary lying in the manger in all His innocence and righteousness and holiness, HE IS ‘CONSUMED.’ For it is in Him, that the Lord carries out all of the JUSTICE that the righteous demands of His HOLY LAW require, for “I the Lord do not change.”
But also in Him, the Lord God carries out the GRACE and MERCY that His HOLY GOSPEL demands, for “I the Lord do not change.”
The innocent child of Mary is CONSUMED and God’s PERFECT JUSTICE is done, “for I the Lord your God am holy.”
And the innocent child of Mary is CONSUMED, that you would not be CONSUMED, and God’s PERFECT MERCY is done, “for you shall be holy.”
“Who shall endure the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appears?” The one who does not deny his guilt or resist the CHANGE that Jesus comes to work in him and in this world, but who clings to the promise of God fulfilled in Mary’s baby and longs to BE CHANGED.
Jesus comes to purify you with the fire of His Holy Spirit in the furnace of Holy Baptism. He comes to wash you in the ‘fullers soap’ of His blood and remove every stain and spot and wrinkle that you may be holy and righteous in His sight.
The God of unchangeable justice is also the God of unchangeable grace. By confessing our sin and trusting in His grace, we not only “endure the day of His coming, and stand when He appears” but we eagerly look forward to it and pray,
“Stir up our hearts, O Lord, and make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming, we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds. Amen.”