Day Eighteen: Where Loyalty May Lead Us

Psalm 125
Malachi 3:16-4:6
Mark 9:9-13

Our readings from Malachi and Mark today both make mention again of the prophet Elijah:

  1. Malachi, in preparing the people for the Day of Judgement in which all evil will be destroyed while the faithful enjoy the warm sunshine of God’s deliverance,  refers to a powerful prophet (Elijah) who will come to call future generations to love and respect one another in accordance with the laws and decrees given to the nation of Israel by Moses so many years ago;
  2. while Jesus, in coming down the mountain from a miraculous moment of affirmation and transfiguration, explains to his bewildered disciples that John the Baptist had already done Elijah’s job of heralding the Messiah … and suffered for it –
    “But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him,” (Mark 9:13).

Elijah …

… on the one hand, a powerful prophet who defied kings and foreign gods, who walked closely with God, and who was taken up into heaven …

… on the other hand, a man always on the run, reliant on God’s divine provision for water and for food in a prolonged time of scarcity and struggle; discouraged, exhausted, wanting to die ….

John the Baptist: the messenger who would prepare the way for the Lord in the spirit and the strength of Elijah (Luke 1:17), promised to be a blessing to his parents and a source of joy to many; arrested, imprisoned, beheaded for speaking truth and holding on to what was right (Matthew 14:10) ….

There are definite benefits to having our names recorded on Malachi’s scroll of remembrance as one of God’s faithful followers:
eternal life with God,
victory over sin and death,
God’s protection and provision,
the Holy Spirit as our constant companion,
true and lasting transformation – from the inside out,
a sense of purpose and significance etc.

But the choice of a Christian life and a lasting legacy is not without cost!

Just ask the bearers of the good news like Elijah and John, or the martyrs of the early church; or reflect for a moment on the piercing question that Jesus asks,

“Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?” Mark 9:12

To share in the exaltation of Christ is to share in his suffering;
to share in his resurrection is to willingly enter into the place of death and emerge as a new creation;
to share in his message of all-embracing love is to open ourselves up to the probability of mockery, rejection, and persecution.

Today’s response is based on a poem by Herbert Brokering and Scott Noon about a people who were longing to be new and in tune with their souls so, at least once a year, they would lie down on the ground, curled up and small, and picture themselves returning to the centre of all that is God’s.

As we enter the song of the Spirit, we are challenged to do so knowing that the life we will lead will not always be an easy one; that we are, in fact, opening ourselves up to the possibility of brokenness and pain, as Christ did for our sake.

Today, I invite you to curl up on the floor in a little ball, to lie quite still, and then – as you offer to God your worries, your objections, your doubts, your questions, your surrender, your prayers for protection and guidance – to allow God to “unfurl” you into the promise and power of rebirth, of new life.       

Day Eleven: Get Ready

Psalm 27
Malachi 2:10-31
Luke 1:5-17

The book of Malachi is the last in the Old Testament. Written after the return from exile, one might expect to find it full of the good news that the people of Israel have finally grasped the fullness of God’s love for them and are sticking with their covenantal promises!

But it’s the same old story …

… treacherous dealings by a corrupt priesthood,
intermarriage with unbelievers,
broken vows,
fragmented families,
God’s love for sinners wrongly interpreted
as permission to sin ….

You know whose story is not the same? Zechariah and Elizabeth’s. We read in the Gospel of Luke that he was an upstanding priest, an honourable man; that they both walked in truth and righteousness, according to God’s commands.

They were faithful – to God and to one another. Yet Elizabeth was barren.

In those days, her inability to bear children would have been interpreted as a curse from God, a judgement for some secret sin.

For years, she would have been a subject of gossip and speculation – as though the pain of being childless and the strain upon her marriage was not enough!

But, as God had done with Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah before, an unexpected miracle occurred – the news of a son who would be a joy and delight to them and to many …

… bringing the people of Israel back to God, yet again;
softening hearts in the style and strength of Elijah;
kindling devotion and understanding, even among the sceptics;
getting the people ready for God
(Luke 1:16-17).

Well, Zechariah wasn’t ready for this news! As much as he had walked closely with God for all those years, he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe what he was hearing (read a bit beyond today’s text to the end of verse 20).

I wonder if the Israelites were ever truly ready. They were ready for liberation, ready for restoration, ready for land and blessing … but were they ready for the demands and obligations of a covenantal relationship with their Saviour?

Are we?!?

This season of Advent is the time in which we get ourselves ready for the coming of the Christ-child and the coming-again of the Christ-King.

That getting ready has very little to do with stocking a pantry or putting up a tree or working out what time Christmas lunch should be if we want to attend a church service first.

It’s all about keeping the promises we make. To God. To ourselves. To others.

And it’s about praying in faith over and over and over again for the places of barrenness and brokenness in our lives and in the lives of those we love.

It’s about making time for “lost causes” – through time gained not listening to or spreading gossip maybe?

It’s about believing in miracles and being God’s good news to someone who needs a little hope, a little help.

It’s about thinking beyond Christmas to what it means to live in an everlasting covenant with the Maker, the Saviour, the Sustainer of our lives.

Today, do something to help yourself or another get ready for the gift of Christ’s coming.