Sermon for Advent II, preached on Sunday, December 6, 2009
Do you remember as a child being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Maybe some of you are still being asked that question – even though you are no longer technically children. It is an interesting question. When I was a child, the typical answers were fireman, policeman, astronaut, teacher, nurse, doctor... Today it is more likely sports or music celebrity or some other similar cult figure... Strange, though, I have never heard anyone say I want to grow up to be John the Baptist. I guess it is understandable – his story did not turn out so well – head on a platter and all... But without John where would we be? Where would we be without the voice that cried in the wilderness “Prepare His way?”
Today we heard from Malachi, not one of the big names among the prophets of the Old Testament and often seen as an unhappy prophet – a doom and gloom sort – and we heard from John. Both spoke the truth in love for the salvation of the world. Each of them responded to God’s call, speaking the appointed Word of the Lord that sustained the promise of old until it was fulfilled in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. We could do worse than to grow up and be like Malachi or John. In fact, that is exactly what God calls us to be.
Our Advent prayer ought to be make me a Malachi. The word Malachi literally means messenger, MY messenger as God speaks it. For some strange reason Christianity has come to be a kind of possession that Christians hoard instead of a message that we share. We come to Church and go to Bible study but we are more passive than active about our faith. We listen but we seldom speak. We hear but we are hesitant to tell. There is something wrong with this. What should we be doing with the Word of the Lord we hear, study, and take in? We should be speaking that Word of the Lord to those around us.
God did not invent evangelism committees but He did call us to be malachies – His messengers. We do not have a choice in this. Jonah was one such messenger who thought the call of God was a choice and he took the wrong one. You know where that led. No, you and I are called by God to be His messengers – whether we like it or not, whether we are comfortable in it or not.
Most of our discomfort lies not in telling the good news but in speaking the words of warning that God’s messengers are called to speak to those comfortable in their sins. But we would not stand idly without warning those who stand in danger. We would cry out in the hope that they might hear and turn and live. So it is with words of warning. We speak not as gods in judgement over others but as messengers of the Lord. We speak warning to those who have grown comfortable in sin and at ease with mortality.
You and I are called not only to warn but to proclaim the hope that is within us. We speak hope to those bowed down with guilt, burdened with sorrow, or broken by pain. Those who seek righteousness find it not by turning inward but by turning to Christ. That is our message. Words of warning and words of hope all pointed to Christ – that is the job of those whom God has called to be His messengers, His malachies.
John heard that call from God so long ago. He knew who he was and was content to follow God’s call wherever that call led. Today as we heard His voice cry in the wilderness, we are reminded that our Advent prayer is “Make me like John.” Make me a bold and unwavering witness, like John.
Like John, this comes with the realization that this is the path of life that God has set us apart to fulfill – from birth this was our calling and still it is our calling. There is no shortage of wilderness in which to cry out. There is no shortage of darkness in need of light. We have the wilderness of our own time and the darkness of our own place in which to speak words of warning and words of hope in Christ.
Sin and death, disappointment and despair are in great quantity around us. What is lacking is hope. What is lacking is light. That is our cue. We are those voices in our own generation and in our own neighborhoods through whom God proclaims His light and life in Jesus Christ. All around us people are asleep in their despair, distracted by the things of today, in need of the awakening call of God to be ready for our Lord when He comes again. To be ready for that final coming, we meet Him where He first came... the manger and the cross... by means of His coming still... the Word and Sacraments.
By pointing to Jesus as John did so long ago, we fulfill God’s bidding and are faithful messengers of His will. Behold the Lamb of God, said John so long ago. Think of those who said that to us so that we might hear and be here today. Think of those who still need to hear, who still need God’s messengers who can point to Jesus where hope and life is found. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That is what we do as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup – we point to Jesus... And as we leave His table to live out our calling as messengers of Christ in the world, that is what we still do.
So who do you wannabe when you grow up? You may be, as they say, long in the tooth, but you have a place and a purpose in God’s plan of salvation. He has called you. Be a Malachi. Be a John. A messenger who speak warning to the comfortable in sin and hope to the wounded, a trumpet to sound a wake up call to people asleep at the wheel, careening to their destruction. You may be worried that messengers lives do not turn out so well... Malachi was not loved by those who heard his voice... and John, well, you know how he ended up with head on a platter... but... BUT their loss was forgotten in the paradise that God had prepared for them. There is great reward for those who hear and heed God’s call to faith, faithfulness, witness and service... so be of good courage, my friends... You were born for this... and even if you were not, you were born again in baptism for just this calling. Our Advent prayer today... Make me a malachi, a messenger, like John. Amen