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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Legacy of My Messenger - 12/06/2015

John the Baptist – the forerunner … the messenger – has come to visit us again in the midst of our Advent journey. Just as in years before, he is calling us to repent, offering up freely the forgiveness of our sins in the living waters of baptism.

The people who were drawn to John in the Jordan River were more than ready for his message. The world around them was a mess – filled with the smells and sounds, the sights and cold feel of death, persecution, hunger. They were ready for the long-awaited Messiah – the one who would change all this, and …  as John quoted from the books of the old prophets ... level the playing field for all. “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth.” (v 5)

John was preparing the way for all that to take place, but he was not the One the world was waiting for, as he will explain to us next week. Rather, he was one who would convict and encourage and prod the people to get themselves ready because that One – the Messiah – was coming and they had best be ready for their prayers to be answered.

We often think of John the Baptist as the one-and-only forerunner who helped spread the word and prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. But in truth, he came from a string of messengers, people who were proclaiming the coming Savior of the World long before John even went into the wilderness and the word of God came upon him. All we have to do is go back just a little bit in the Luke's gospel to see evidence of these messengers.

John's mother Elizabeth is the first example Luke gives us. She thought she was barren and had all but given up on the idea of having a child. But God hadn't given up and she did become pregnant. When the also-pregnant Mary visited her in the hill country, Elizabeth's child leaped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and became God's messenger. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (1:42-43).

From there, Mary takes on the role of God's messenger. As impossible as it sounded to her, the young woman who was engaged to marry Joseph was visited by the Angel Gabriel and told she would bear a child and he would be the Son of Humanity. Nothing is impossible with God, Gabriel told her. Upon seeing Elizabeth, she began to sing a song of praise that we still sing today. It's called the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” (1:46-50)

John's father, Zechariah, is silent through all these proclamations of what is to come with this child Mary is carrying. He is silent because he had been struck mute in the temple when the Angel Gabriel came to tell him that he would indeed father a child with Elizabeth. Zechariah couldn't believe it and, in his doubt, he questioned the angel – after all, he was now an old man and Elizabeth was not exactly of child-bearing age any more. “Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur,” Gabriel said to Zechariah. And he did not speak again until some nine months later when he too was filled with the Holy Spirit and his first words were that of a messenger of God. It took form as our Psalm-reading today.  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.” (1:68-69)

Zechariah didn't stop there. In addition to fulfilling the role as God's messenger, he charged his newborn son John with the task. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (1:76-79)

When we look at Luke's story and the role of God's messenger, it's easy to see that John the Baptist came out of a community of forerunners. A tradition of people who held fast to God's promises of abundant love and proclaimed it. People who kept the message of the prophets alive in times when everything seemed so bleak and hopeless and impossible. But nothing is impossible with God, as all these messengers still remind us today.

That voice of hope in darkness is where our friend Malachi comes from today too. Last week, we had the prophetic voice of Jeremiah rising up out of the Babylonian exile and reminding the people that despite the destruction of the temple and the scattering of the people, God's promise, God's covenant was not broken. Malachi's message comes about 150 years later. Many of the exiles have returned to Jerusalem and the temple is rebuilt, but a complacency and apathy has set in. Despite being freed from Babylonian rule and persecution, the people and the clergy have become lax in their commitment to God's law … in what it means to live as people of God.

As I said last week, the messages of these prophets from ancient times can serve us as a kind of course correction in our own observances of Advent – in how we prepare for the coming of a the Christ child in our busy and chaotic world where the secular observances of this season often overpower the sacred observance. So while Jeremiah's course correction could be understood as a reminder that God's promise to us is not broken, Malachi's course correction may be understood as one of hope – a messenger to assure us that our Savior does come to us – even in terrible circumstances that may dampen our hope. Even in a landscape of brokenness and discord that may do its best to extinguish that last little flicker of hope among us.

Malachi's message is similar to John's. Are we ready for the answer to our prayers? Are we ready, for instance, for what we often pray together … “Your kingdom come. Your will be done?” Malachi calls us to purify ourselves as we offer up that prayer. To recognize where we have wandered off course, to repent and to free ourselves of our sin … just as a refiner removes the impurities from silver or a fuller prepares and cleans wool before it is used. Silver with impurities is weakened and disfigured. Wool that hasn’t been prepared by the fuller is not suitable for the warm clothing we need to get us through the winter.

That preparation is why we gather here – our souls weighed down with sin, encumbered by the brokenness of this world and our natures are washed in the waters of baptism. We remembered that just a few moments ago in our Thanksgiving for Baptism. By the baptism of Jesus' death and resurrection we are set free from the power of sin and death and raised up to new life in God.

We thank God for this gift of sending us back into the world each week relieved of that burden.

There's another curious thing about Malachi … we're not sure who is proclaiming this message because, in Hebrew, “malachi” means “my messenger.” It opens wide the possibility that this is not a name at all, but rather a role. It could be anyone, a role answered by someone just like Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah or John... or you or me.

And so perhaps the course correction offered by God's messenger today is also an invitation to us – as a part of that community of forerunners and messengers – to continue that legacy of proclamation. To be ourselves, malachi – God's messengers.

The need for us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and take on this role could not be more apparent. What place could need it more than a country besieged by more mass shootings 2015 than there are days in the year? A place where so many of our political leaders can't seem to work together for the good of the people on any issue? What age could need it more than a world darkened by the wicked deeds of terrorists and bleak realities of too many who remain hungry, lonely, misunderstood and forgotten?

Is there a time more in need for God's messengers to continue the work of speaking words of hope into that chaos? We are malachi, my friends – called to repent and carry on the tradition of our community to proclaim that the Messiah has come, is here among us now and will come again. Be ready.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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