“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
Malachi 3: 6-7
Why have I chosen these verses for the reflection this week? These verses are not about the prophet we meet this week in the reading from the lectionary. They aren’t about what will happen in the future, when the Messiah comes, but about what is already true in the world that awaits him. I chose these two verses for what they say about God and God’s response to our turning away. We turn from God, but God never turns from us. The people of God are not destroyed because God is the basis for our existence. No matter how often we abandon God, God does not abandon us. He is the “I am”, and we are not destroyed because of our choices. That is the good news of the prophets that culminates in John the Baptist. God does not change, or turn from us. All we have to do to be in the presence of God is to turn around, to pay attention, to practice what God tells us is right. In the case of Malachi, the people of God at the time were not worshiping God correctly and were not faithful in their relationships.
The specific judgments of the prophets are contextual, but the point is always the same: turn away from whatever you are doing that keeps you from being loving, merciful and just. Look at the One who is all loving, all merciful and completely just. John tells us to look at Jesus, who is fulfilling all the prophecies of Malachi, Isaiah and others, showing us how to be truly human.
This week of Advent is a hinge in the doorway between our former lives and the new one being created in Jesus, the prophecies of Jesus coming to save us begin to be clearer, the door to the presence of Immanuel opens further, and we begin to see what repentance is: turning to God and being purified of what happened when we turned away. The second Sunday of Advent is about all the prophets before John, who pointed to God’s unfailing faithfulness and love of his people, and described the devastation that results from turning away from him.
Many of us do not want to read the prophets, or we only want to read the parts that are comforting. We are happy to open the door to God and read “Comfort, comfort, ye my people” and to hear that the paths of the Lord are to be made straight, level and smooth right before we follow them. We are likely to slam the door on the message that the Lord will come to scrub us clean with laundry soap (Malachi 3:2) or to “put us on trial” (Malachi 3: 5). But both of these messages are part of the prophetic good news. We do have to be judged by God and purified. But that is not the end of our relationship with God. We have to change and stop doing wrong, but God is unchanged. Our lives are secure if we turn toward God. God’s love and desire for us has not changed. God’s identity as the creator, redeemer and sustainer of all has not changed. It is simple to see the salvation of God We have only to turn on the hinge and look.