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Monday, December 10, 2012

Disrupted Christmas

Disrupted Christmas (Malachi 3:1-4)

Sunday, December 9, 2012 – Advent 2

            My family moved from our home in Clawson, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, to Roanoke, Virginia.  That was 1982.  I was 12 years old.  Every year after, we made multiple trips back to Michigan to see family.  If we only made one trip in a year to Michigan, it was Christmas time.  We stayed at the home of my mom’s mother.  She lived in a declining neighborhood in Detroit: Seven Mile Road, just a mile from Eight Mile made famous by Eminem. 

On Christmas Eve, all of us, including my grandmother, traveled from Detroit out to Clawson to my dad’s parents.  After the party we headed back to Detroit for bed and then to wake up and share gifts on Christmas morning.  One year when we did that, we got back to Grandma Biscomb’s house and discovered burglars had come.  They were gone by the time we returned. 

Their damage had been done.  All our presents were opened and many had been taken.  Other items, small ones, were also stolen from Grandma’s house.  That was a disruption to our normal Christmas routine. 

This Advent season, we anticipate Christmas by hearing from the prophets, and my hope, no my prayer is that our Christmas, yours and mine, will be disrupted!  We will hear the fury of the prophets and the feel the power of God in this words, and we will be shocked.  Disrupted?  Having burglars steal the Christmas presents is nothing like the disruption of God invading our lives, disrupting our comfort, confronting our sin, and calling us to repentance and holiness. 

Scholar Gerhard von Rad noted a time in history when prophets were seen for how dangerous they were (The Message of the Prophets, p.68). Do we realize how dangerous the prophets were and still are?  Prodded by this question and hearing this disquieting prayer – that God would disrupt our lives this Christmas – we turn to Malachi, the final book in the Old Testament.  He asks, “Who can endure the day of God’s coming?  Who can stand when he appears” (3:2a)?  Go through the Bible for the answer to that second question.  From Ezekial to the Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb to John on the Island of Patmos, every time God or an angel of God appears in glorified form before a man, the man crumbles to the ground and lies prone, trembling, until the diving being invites the man to stand.  Who can stand?  None.  But it means more than that.

We read Malachi with Christian eyes.  We believe Jesus was the one who came and will come again.  Malachi literally means “Messenger.” This is only Old Testament prophet who speaks of a messenger preparing the way of the Lord.  This passage is quoted in New Testament texts that tell about the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist, the one who came ahead of Jesus.  Both Matthew and Luke in their gospels intentionally reach to Malachi’s messenger prophecy and refer to John as the Elijah of his day, speaking God’s word that God is coming in the flesh. 

Now, two thousand years have passed.  The Jesus story is history, not news.  Yet, the incarnation – by this we mean Jesus coming as God in human form – continues to do new things today, just as Malachi’s prophecy continues to be dangerous as it was when first spoken and written.  Jesus came.  And from New Testament writings we know Jesus will come back and bring history to an end. And Jesus will judge all people when he comes.  The Day of Judgment; the Second Coming; it all points to Jesus coming in the future.  He came in the past and will come again.  But I contend that Malachi’s word has force right now – in the time in between.

Who can endure his coming?  Who can stand?

Malachi gives the answers.  “The day is coming  the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch” (4:1).  Aside from the fact that in every instance in scripture where there’s a divine-human encounter, the human is overwhelmed to the point that he falls face down without thought of doing anything else, Malachi makes clear arrogant persons and evil doers will be judged, found guilty, and condemned.  Just as one receiving his verdict of a life sentence is crushed even before it begins, one who meets God and is convicted of sin dies inside and that internal death is painful and violent. 

And yet, says Malachi, “those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name.17They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them.18Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (3:16-18).  Different people have a different experience on the day of His coming.  The righteous are overwhelmed and maybe convicted, but ultimately ushered into the joy of God because what makes them righteous is not their conduct.  The righteous as sinful as are those condemned.  But, they’ve trusted in Jesus.  They are forgiven even though sinful behaviors are not immediately ceased. 

Who can endure his coming?  Who can stand? 

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.6For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.

7Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you” (3:5-9)!”

            Do you participate in exploitation?  Watch out!  Do you dabble in witchcraft or occult?  God is coming – the real God.  Anyone give allegiance to things, relationships, institutions when that allegiance belongs to God?  In God’s eyes, that is spiritual adultery and it will be judged.  That is what the coming of God brings.  Are we lazy or stingy with our tithes – the money we devote to God’s kingdom?  God calls that robbery.  We think of robbery as taking something that’s not ours.  God extends the definition, according to Malachi.  Robbery is holding on to what we ought to give. 

            Indeed, who can stand when He comes?

            And yet, Malachi, the messenger, finally says, “for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.3And 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.

4Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.5Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.6He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse” (4:2-5).

At the coming of God, some are cursed, some promised hope.  Which message is for us?  Mostly, we are middle class – affluent.  People in the dominant culture like their lives, generally speaking.  And even if they experience individual unhappiness or personal discontent, they love the idea that the dominant culture is theirs and they will not tolerate threats to it.  Jesus is a threat because He won’t fit into the place assigned to Him by the dominant culture.

Middle class Americans have to understand that we benefit from being members of the dominant culture.  This leaves us with a real tension.  Will we live at Jesus’ pleasure?  Or will we try to make Jesus fit into our lives on our terms, where it is good for us?  Who can stand at His coming?  My prayer is he comes right now, in the Spirit, into each of our lives in such a disruptive way, that every table is overturned and when things are finally rearranged in our lives, we look to the center and see that life only works when it revolves around the one who fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy.

Here’s a follow-up on the Christmas we had at my grandmother’s house when the burglars broke in while we were out.  I don’t remember all the details.  This is around 27 years ago.  What I do remember are the feelings.

First, it was kind of freaky.  Someone had been in the house.  Someone came in uninvited.  There was this weird are they still here, still around sense of things.  Would they come back?  It was uneasy.  My indomitable grandmother, 100% English, would never leave that house.  There was that break in.  A few years later she was mugged.  But she refused to leave until finally cancer forced her to spend her final months in Roanoke with my mom.  I don’t know how she stayed.  I was unnerved.

Second, I felt violated.  I am sure from my mom and maybe from Grandma, there were tears.  I don’t remember exactly.  Strangers with dishonorable intentions had gone through our personal things.   Something was taken, something more than just possessions.

Third, and this is most important, I remember another emotion, one I cannot easily name.  Our family came together.  There was Grandma’s iron will.  There was my mom’s constant care for her three children.  And there was my Dad’s determination that his family would have a happy Christmas.  I remember us joining our hearts.  We wouldn’t have said it this way at the time, but though the criminals disrupted our Christmas, they could not steal our joy.  And in fact, we did imagine this.  How desperately difficult must your life be that you are out robbing people on Christmas Eve?  Led by my faithful parents, we did feel compassion for the thieves.

My prayer for the people of HillSong – those who come every week and those who come one time – is that we get knocked to the floor.  I pray God would deliver a roundhouse right that KO’s us.  “Who can endure the day of His coming?”  Malachi asks.  Not us. 

I pray the disrupting God who came in human skin – Jesus, and who comes again – Jesus returning, will come right now in Spirit.  I pray the Spirit will come in force and I pray that we realize that when we pray in this way, it is arresting.  It is scary. 

It is also good news – the best news.  The God who blows us away with His Holiness makes us new with His grace.  The God the messenger heralded pours new wine in and the only way we can hold it is if he re-creates us; makes us new, new wine skins to Hold his sweet new wine. 

In process of knocking us to the floor with His coming, we remember our descent down under the waters of our baptism.  And we remember what happens next.  Dead in sin, we are raised to new life in Jesus Christ.  Marantha!  Come Lord Jesus.

When He comes, we are made new.  Nothing ever looks the same again because we look with new eyes.  We look through Gospel-tinted lenses.  We see the world more clearly – ourselves, those around us, and God.  And so, I pray.  Oh God, come disrupt our lives this Christmas.  O great refiner, great cleanser, O Holy God, come and do your work on each of us.


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