Advent Midweek 2 LSB #’s 349, 398 v.1, 2, 5, 380
Text – Malachi 3:1
Behold, I send my messenger, & he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; & the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
The King’s Herald: Announcing the King!
Do you ever have guests who arrive unannounced? Generally, this is not a good thing! If it’s a best friend, well, ok – come as you are & we’ll take you as we are. But what if someone rather special – your boss, the in-laws, the owner of the company, the president of the United States – just showed up like the Publisher’s Clearing House messenger?
Generally speaking, presidents & ancient kings arrived quite “announced.” We know about announcers; they introduce the star of the show. You might remember Ed McMahon’s famous, “Heeeeere’s Johnnie!” Jimmie Fallon has his announcer for another generation. When it comes to presidents, we know a little about preparations for any of their appearances.
Things weren’t much different in the ancient world. Two things are worth noting in relation to the sermon text this evening. First, we highlight the important role of the messenger, the herald who announced the coming of the king. Secondly, we need to understand what it usually meant for the king himself to arrive.
The sermon text begins, “Behold, I send my messenger, & he will prepare the way before me.” Messengers were an important part of the communication technology of the ancient world. Long before the Internet, before Fox News, before telephone or telegraph, even before the pony express, it was the feet of the messenger that brought the news.
Unlike today’s programs, the news was generally good. If it was bad, it wasn’t worth reporting, & the king did not want you to know, so he didn’t bother sending a messenger. Of course, there were still times the news was not what people wanted to hear, hence the old adage:
“Don’t kill the messenger.” The messenger only came to “prepare the way.” The OT prophets used that image to prepare people for the coming – not just of the king of their day, like David or Hezekiah, some good & most bad – but especially for the great & glorious “once for all” king that was yet to come.
Isaiah 40, the prophet tells us to prepare the way of the Lord & make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Tonight we consider the words of Malachi, whose name itself means – my messenger:
“Behold, I send my messenger, & he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; & the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” So how do we prepare?
Isaiah & Malachi use language describing a clearing of the road: getting rid of obstacles. Isaiah actually wrote of a highway, an expressway that meant smooth sailing; no traffic lights, no orange barrels, nothing in the way. But it was God who actually did the preparation, through His servants. Once prepared, the people would anticipate the coming of the king.
That brings us to the 2nd important understanding: what did it mean for the king to come? Again, the OT world provides the context. Kings marched home to their capital city in a victory parade. The grand processional included a good deal of pomp & circumstance. He was to be recognized & honored for the conquest & for the spoils of war that came with him.
The meaning of this was all about the king, & he did not come unannounced. Yet, did you catch the subtle comment in tonight’s sermon text – ‘suddenly’? God’s point concerns the messenger about to prepare the way, & the people who were “seeking” their kingly lord. Given that, you’d think everyone would be well prepared.
Yet when “the lord” comes, he comes suddenly. Dear friends in Christ, what are you
expecting, now that the herald has announced the coming of the king? Victory? Triumph? The spoils of a conquering king shared with his people – or if not shared, at least trickled down from rich to poor?
In Malachi’s day the people were expecting God to come & finally fix the problems of an unjust world. They thought the kingdom of God should be doing better than it was, having lost its way & its vigor in the waning centuries of the OT, & were waiting for something greater to happen. They had witnessed a lack of good leadership even among the people of God.
Kings had come & gone & now the priests were losing their edge, taking any old sacrifice as long as money came with it to fund the temple or grease the palm of the priest.
Many people were just going through the motions; believing if the priests do the ritual, we’ll be fine, no matter how we conduct our lives, our marriages or our families. They thought God was big enough to include a wide diversity of spiritual life & conduct! Then, “suddenly” the whole scene shifts in the sermon text.
The eager expectation of the coming king is met by the sudden & striking question: “who can endure the day of his coming?” Something seems terribly wrong. The king was supposed to bring the wealth of the nations to his kingdom, whether gained justly or not. The enemies, the losers, they were the ones who could not endure this.
Instead this King is actually going to do something about the injustice, about good & evil, right there within His kingdom! And those who wanted justice – well, they’re going to get it. Those who thought God should reward their self-asserted goodness in a better way, well, they’re going to realize that they aren’t as good as they thought.
Those who thought God should punish evil – they’re going to find out that they are more evil than they believed. “For he is like a refiner’s fire & like fuller’s soap” (this was long before ivory was 99.44% pure & gentle!). This King would purify the sons of Levi, starting with the corrupt leaders & priests, then getting to the sacrifices & offerings of the people. And you see, this is actually a good thing! It may not be what we expected, even wanted, but it is what was truly needed. “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord – purge me with hyssop, & I shall be clean!”
What is worse than thinking we are doing all the right things, when we are not? What is worse than thinking we should be telling God how to be king, when He is king, & we are not? Do we truly want to be clean or just “blessed” by our own dirty standards?
Yes, the king is coming, this lord whom we are seeking. And He has a few surprises for us, & for all, when He comes. But He is not coming unannounced. God made sure of that, working behind & through John the Baptist, his messenger – remember – “to prepare the way.” John had some hard & harsh words to say as well.
And right behind John came Jesus himself, but He did not come as any other king. Here is where the comparison ends. First, the message of both John & Jesus is not one of earthly conquest & victory. It is a message of repentance & forgiveness of sins. If there is justice, it will come by God’s mercy & through His grace. Our sins will be paid for, but not by you or me.
The Lord, whom we are seeking, came to His people. They wanted justice, & He gave them justice; He exposed their sin, & our sin, but then He let justice be done by paying for our sins Himself. The Lord, whom we are seeking, came to His temple. On Palm Sunday He even approximated the king’s triumphant entry, but it was a parody on an earthly king’s parade.
For Jesus came not to be served, but to serve – to give his life as a ransom for YOU. Then, but only then, came the victory parade: not into the city, but out of the tomb! A parade to those hiding in an upper & room scared of the world out there! A parade to Galilee & back to Jerusalem; with a mission to herald His kingdom to the end of the earth. Then He left, but He will return. Will His coming be unannounced? Only to those who refuse to believe. God used Moses, Isaiah, Malachi, & then John as His messengers, His heralds. God wants His coming to be announced. We know He is coming, soon, even though it may well come “suddenly.” But He has announced it & we can announce it, too.
Advent is a time of preparation, for the coming of the King has been announced. “Hark, the herald angels” we will be singing in another great announcement very soon. We are reliving, & waiting for, His arrival. It is the Lord we are seeking. Our expectant hearts turn to the preparation at hand. Repent, for the reign of God is, indeed, at hand! Amen.
Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son! Hail, in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun! He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free, to take away transgression & rule in equity. O’er every foe victorious, He on His throne shall rest, from age to age more glorious, all blessing & all-blest. The tide of time shall never His covenant remove; His name shall stand forever – that name to us is Love. Amen. LSB 398:1, 5
 Psalm 51:10, 7
Pastor Dean R. Poellet