Unwelcome messages

November 30, 2009

Perhaps December in your house is like it is in mine: more guests coming
more often, which means more preparation. In my home, messages start
showing up in odd places—unexpected and in many cases unwelcome
messages. My daughter may wake up to see a “to do” list taped to her
favorite cereal box, with the dire warning, “Make your bed before you
eat!” My teenage son will find his messages taped to the refrigerator
door.

My own messages are usually hanging on the front door just
above the door knob, so there is absolutely no chance of avoiding them
unless I sneak out the back door or crawl out through a window--which
makes it obvious that I've seen the messages.

The messages are
almost always about preparation: shopping for presents, picking out
trees, cooking for dinner parties and gearing up for family gatherings.
We are scurrying around to parties, meetings and malls and spending
inordinate amounts of time consuming, working and planning. Tis the
season of preparation upon layers of preparation.

The paradox is
that the season of preparation is also the season of heightened
distraction. While we are rummaging around in the closet for the silver
tinsel, the prophet Malachi is warning of a refiner’s fire where silver
and gold will be purified and refined. While we are raising a tree to
anticipate the gifts that will appear beneath its branches, Zechariah
speaks of a mighty savior raised up with the gifts of mercy,
forgiveness, peace and redemption. While the malls overflow with people
trying to find the best gift for Christmas day, Paul prays that the
people in Philippi will be overflowing with love so that they may be
found pure and blameless on the day of Christ. While the world announces
preparation for a holiday, John announces preparation for a way.

Each
passage for this coming Sunday has a messenger jumping off the page;
unexpected and even unwelcome messages are all over the place.
Christians, of all people, should not avoid such prophetic messages,
though we’re tempted to crawl out the window or the back door. The
temptation to avoid spiritual preparation may force us to ask difficult
questions: do we prefer comfortable holiday distraction to
comfort-shattering calls to holiness and discipleship?

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The
name “Malachi” means “my messenger.” This message is posted at the very
end of the Old Testament, which in Protestant Bibles is followed by the
Gospel of Matthew. In 2:17 the people ask: “Where is the God of
justice?” An answer follows in this week's reading:

See I
am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom
you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the
covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of
hosts.

The church confesses that Christmas is the answer to
the people’s question in Malachi. Where is the God of justice? We need
look no further than the poor Jewish child born in Bethlehem.

But
perhaps contemporary people might bring different questions: where is
the God of Christmas once the toys are broken, the wrapping paper is at
the curb and the time off is over? Where are the people who profess to
follow this God of justice during the rest of the year? Does the God we
worship on December 25 still resemble the God of Malachi, Zechariah,
Paul, Luke, John the Baptizer and the prophet Isaiah?