The time of Advent includes messages from the prophets who spoke of the coming of the Messiah or Anointed One of God. After God sends his messenger, the prophet Malachi, the prophet becomes like a refiner’s fire or like fuller’s soap. Then, and only then, will God cleanse the priests. Then, and only then, will those priests who represent the religious community receive the “offerings to the Lord in righteousness.” Then, and only then, will the people’s offerings please the Lord. These acts Malachi’s prophecy describes are functions of ritual cleansing.
In the prophets’ understanding of God, how people live and treat one another reflects their belief and covenant with God. We act on what we believe. Therefore, if one shows good faith toward God, then one likewise shows good faith toward his or her sisters and brothers. To engage in sorcery, adultery, false witness, oppression of workers, widows, and orphans reveals bad faith. And the wages of bad faith, at least according to Malachi, will be a swift bearing of witness against these.
Simply put, those who show good faith toward God will “fear the Lord.” This term fear of the Lord most simply means that we respect God and God’s word among God’s people. People who show justice and equity toward God’s children are people who fear the Lord.
Most preachers I know do not like to throw down a challenge to the people like Malachi did. We love our people. To throw people’s sin back into any congregation’s teeth is, at best, easier said than done. Yet as an old time preacher, Jay Darnell, who I buried one year ago this week once put it: “God created us for something much grander than to be left to our own sinful devices.”
Therefore, as Jesus himself once said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen” (Mark 4:9)!