Second Sunday of Advent

A reflection on the four Lectionary texts for this week.

Malachi 3:1-4 | Luke 1:68-79| Luke 3:1-6| Philippians 1:3-14

Advent, as the Church has celebrated for hundreds of years, celebrates the first coming of Jesus, incarnated as an infant, and looks forward to the second coming of Jesus as conquering King. Though Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended to the Father, evil still seems to reign in the world. We need Jesus to set things straight for us. He has promised to return, bodily, just as he bodily came before. We saints live in a complicated era, wherein the kingdom is here, but is not yet here in it’s fullness. We remember the injustices that hurt our planet, hurt our human race, and hurt the creation. We long for the end of cruel governments and the restoration of every people group. 

In this darkness, a light shines. As Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem challenged the monarchy of Israel, so will his second usher in a new age of the kingdom, directly opposed to beastly empires who hunt and destroy God’s people now. As Jesus’ first coming brought light into the world, dispelling the great darkness that fell upon the planet, we can trust that his second coming will bring light to all and bring the created order back to its intended purposes.

But in the meantime, we wait. We wait for Jesus to return, creation waits with longings and groaning for the revelation of the children of God. 

As we wait, we remember the prophet Malachi’s message to Israel. God’s people were growing restless waiting for the restoration of Israel. They had recently returned to their land after the Babylonian exile (2 Chronicles 36; Ezra 1). They had even begun rebuilding their temple (Haggai) and the city’s walls (Nehemiah). But the nation was not at full force. Sin still ravaged the community, threatening the restoration effort (cf. Ezra 9ff; Nehemiah 9ff). 

In light of these issues, Malachi brings hope to Israel. Yahweh is sending a messenger, one who would announce the restoration of Israel. This messenger would prepare the way for Yahweh to return to his people (after he left in Ezekiel 9-11). The primary need of the people of Israel wasn’t a restored nation; rather, it was the restoration of the presence of the Lord among his people.

But Malachi brings a warning. The coming of the Lord will come with fire. This fire is not merely for destruction; rather, it’s design was to purify Israel that her offering may be blameless before Yahweh, restoring the communion that she had shared with her God. Who could survive? Malachi does not say, but offers a glimmer of hope: those who do survive the purifying fire would be able to bring an offering to the Lord, one that is holy and acceptable. 

Fast forward a few hundred years, John the Baptizer comes to deliver the message that Malachi had foretold. Soon, the purifying fire of Yahweh was to come to Israel. John calls the nation to repent, lest she be burnt with the chaff. The axe is at the tree, and Israel is in danger of being chopped in half. Israel could be part of the restoration process though, she must simply make straight the path of the Lord, who would fill every valley and bring low every mountain.  If Israel was prepared, she would see her great consolation: all flesh would see the salvation of her God. In the restoration of the world, Israel would find rest herself.

How would this salvation come about? John the Baptizer’s father sings about the salvation of the Lord when he hears that he will be given a son. Yahweh had worked to bring about his salvation in the house of his servant David. He was faithful to his promises to the patriarchs and faithful to keep the words that he spoke through the prophets: this coming King would save them from the scorn of their enemies. Because of the work of Yahweh in this King, Israel would be free to worship God without fear because righteousness and holiness would be restored to the land. 

The tender mercy of the Lord, in that peace would be granted to his saints and light would be made manifest in this king, is seen in no better place than the Church. The source of Paul’s joy is that the Lord is faithful to his people, and will bring to completion the work that he has started in the Church. Because of the Lord’s faithfulness, the saints would be made blameless at the coming of Jesus.

This is good news for us! We, as Israel did in Malachi’s day, wait for the time in which the Lord will set the world straight and restore everything to its good and intended purpose: his own glory. But there is a danger to this: when the Lord comes, it will be an overwhelming day. His purifying fire will scourge the earth of all evil, which threatens to take all of God’s enemies with it. But God’s light has shone upon the earth, and those living in darkness have been shone a great light. Israel’s enemies would be silenced by the Son of David, who would bring people from all over the world to himself. And because Jesus has called a people to himself, they will be free of the fire, free to wait in joy for the second coming of our Lord. 

For further reading, please see Fleming Rutledge’s Advent and Connections: Year C, volume 1. For a guide to prayers, I recommend Phyllis Tickle’s Christmastide: Prayers for Advent through Epiphany from the Divine Hours