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Sunday, December 5, 2021


A sermon based on Malachi 3: 1-4; Isaiah 9:2-8

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

The Second Sunday of Advent, Year C.

December 5th, 2021


Malachi 3:1–5 (NRSV): See, I am sending my messenger to 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—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

 2  But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;

 3  he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

 4  Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

 5  Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.


      The Faith and Spirituality film, I still Believe, tells the true story of Christian musician and singer Jeremy Camp and the loss of his first wife to cancer.  They were newly married and at the time.  She was only 21 years old.

     Throughout the ordeal, as you might imagine, Jeremy struggles to keep his faith.   The question that came to him, and to so many more,  is how can a loving, all-powerful, almighty God allow such suffering to fall upon those he loves?  But as Jeremy deals with his grief and doubts, one day he finds a note left in his guitar.  It was put there by his wife, Melissa, reminding him of her love for him and encouraging him to keep his trust in God because God is their only sure hope.     

       This moving story of unexpected grief and resilient faith, reminds us of what we are all up against.  Our continued human struggle with sickness, suffering, evil and death, either moves us toward faith in God, or it pushes us away.  What it does not allow us to do is to remain neutral.   Either God is the God who loves us, or what good is God, anyway?

            This question of God, God’s love and power gains attention in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  We either see the power of God at work through in Jesus, or we don’t.  We shouldn’t remain neutral.  We must come to some kind of answer to Jesus’ own question: ‘Who do you say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ 

          Especially during this season of Advent, either we are waiting in hope, trusting in God, or this celebration is just another human tradition, pointing to memories of the past or parties  in the present, which are just about pausing for fun. In the midst of fun or frustration, the question arises for us too: Is Jesus Our Emmanuel, God with us? 

            Today, we consider Isaiah’s second royal title of hope as it specifically relates to Jesus.  Isaiah names this son who will be given as, first as Wonderful Counselor, and then next, as Mighty God!   That’s certainly the most powerful name that could be ever be given a King.  Most Kings and rulers were considered to have divine rights, but to be named God, or Son of God, was the highest title of all.   Isaiah says it is this child who will grow up to establish justice and uphold righteousness in the nation.  What does this kind of hope mean, especially in light of a world that can still be unjust and seem far from righteousness?



Centuries later, another prophet picks up on Isaiah’s prophetic hope.  Isaiah’s prophecy was spoken in the 8th century BC, but this hope was renewed again, 300 years later.  As the Old Testament comes to a close, the final prophecy of Malachi almost shouts, ‘Prepare...’!  The Lord you seek is coming into his temple!   He is coming, says the Lord of hosts! (3:1).

The New Testament then opens, with John the Baptizer preaching from the standpoint of Israel’s religious and political wilderness, saying ‘Make way!’ (My translation)  Prepare!  One who is more powerful than I is coming! (Mark 1: 7).  Then John adds:  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mk. 1:8). Later, in the gospel of John, Jesus’ disciple,  when John the Baptizer recognizes Jesus as the hoped for Messiah as he comes to be baptized by John , John then says, Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin’ (John 1:29).

            What all four gospels have in common is the recognition, along with John, that in Jesus of Nazareth the Lord God appears to his people and comes into his temple as Mighty God.  The long awaited fulfillment of the Hebrew prophets has finally been realized.  As the great Christmas Carol resounds,

Joy to the World, the Lord has come!  Let Earth receive her king! 

Let every heart prepare him room.  Let Heaven and mature sing!

This is indeed, what we sing, but what does it mean, for us, this world where there is still sin, still evil, still suffering and still death?  What does it mean to trust and to believe that Jesus is the answer to Isaiah’s hope that this child, given also to us, is Mighty God, with full authority and power?

            The best way to understand how the prophets hope of God’s power was realized in Jesus, came from those who witnessed it, as recorded in the gospels themselves.  The gospel of Mark, probably the first of the gospels, in the opening chapter wants us to see God’s mighty authority on display in Jesus from the vantage point of unclean, evil, demonic spirits. 

These spirits, revealing themselves in this man as an uncleanness (probably a mental illness), immediate recognized Jesus as the ‘holy one of God’ (1: 24).  Jesus then tells them to be silent, and to come out! (1:25).  Then the text says, the man convulsed a bit, and the spirits came out of him. 

Now, before you write this all off as creepy movie fiction, like in the Exorcist, you need to read on to see how the people respond, observing:  They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28  At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.  (Mark 1:27–28 (NRSV).

            The same kind of observation is repeated, but this time it is more intimate, coming from the disciples themselves.  After a storm comes upon in their boat out on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus awakes to calm the storm by speaking a word, they ask themselves: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  The question that keeps surfacing over and over, especially among the people and religious leaders is ‘by what authority do you do these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:28).

       ‘Authority is another word for the mighty power of God to heal and to save.  This is what Isaiah means, where he says, ‘his authority will grow continually and there will be endless peace’ (v. 7).   It is the ultimate healing of Israel from the burden and Rod of her oppressors that Isaiah hopes for.   In the life of Jesus, this healing begins, not among the established government, but among the heartbreaks and burdens of the poorest of the poor.   God’s mighty power and rule appears in the lowest places; in single human lives and hurts, bringing hope and healing in both body and soul.   As the prophecy of Malachi opens,  God says to his people, ‘I have loved you’.  In Jesus God comes to make this message clear and plain. 

     However we may struggle in this life and in this world,  the gospel of Jesus points to this God who is, as the song says, ‘Mighty to Save!’  Jesus comes as the Son given to  reveal God himself.  This coming of the Lord into his temple, as Malachi puts it, isn’t about a building, but is a God coming into life as a human person, a ‘son of man’, or human one, as one translation puts it.  

Understanding how the invisible, mighty God becomes human flesh that not only heals and saves, but who also bleeds and dies, requires a whole new way of thinking, both about who God is and what ‘might’ means.  Might isn’t always what ‘makes right’, but might begins, as it does in Jesus, by being right and by doing what’s right.  This is the source of true human power.  True power taps into the coming of God’s as just and righteous, which is how God is also able to come our lives and into this broken world.   



I don’t want to get too deep.  What’s most important is that we first understand what God’s mighty power does in us, for us, and through us before we can even begin to understand how it all works.  Of course, we will never fully understand that.  We will get to what we can understand in just a moment, but first notice from the prophet Malachi what God’s mighty power in Jesus intends to do in us. 

            After Malachi prophesies that the Lord is coming, he asks a question few ever dare to ask.  Who can endure this?   Who can survive it?  For, he is like a refiner’s fire; like fuller’s soap (3:2-3).  These images point to the transforming, purifying power of God to change us, from who we are into who we can and should be. 

The point for us here is that we don’t always want what God can and will do in us, but God is coming to do this anyway.  This God is mighty in that he is not starting out to change the world or our situation, but God is mighty in that he comes first to change us and purify us in our situation, no matter what that situation my be.

One of the powerful and inspiring films I’ve seen lately is the Italian film, The War is Over.  It’s a film based on the book, The  War Is Over: Story of the Selvino Children written by an award winning Jewish writer.   It tells the true story of a group of Jewish adults who came together after WWII, to collect, shelter and rehabilitate Jewish children who had been left orphaned by the Holocaust.  

As the story unfolds, it’s not only the children who are being saved and healed out of the horrors of that terrible time, but the adults are too.  While there was nothing good about that war, something wonderful, healing, and amazing was taking place among those children and those who cared for them.  

The emotion of the entire series can be summed up in the one Jewish orphaned who looks up into the face of an female adult and innocently asked, ‘Are you my Mommy?’   Your heart breaks, but you also see how all those who care for these children, having their own lives touched and transformed by the whole ordeal.   How could your own life not be purified and refined by the heartbreak and the needs of these children.

While we can never know ‘why’ things happen to us as they often do in life, what we can do is decide how we will respond.   This is what Malachi means when he asks,  ‘Who can stand!   This mighty God who comes, is coming for you, not to destroy sinners, but to refine, purify and save us from our sin.  This is what a truly powerful and mighty God does.  God isn’t threatened by our sins, but we are.   However, in the greatest darkness, and in the most horrendous moment, God is at work to challenge, change and to transform us.

Isn’t this something current to us?   During the difficult and challenging times of this Pandemic, the refiners fire and fullers soap has come to us.   In all the fear and frustration of these days, the Lord has entered his temple, so to speak.  Did we survive?  Did we grow?  Did God bring newness of life and purpose to us? 

When God works in this way, in our weakness and struggle, we should learn again how mighty God is, and how much our hope truly depends on him.   And this hope in God, isn’t mainly what God will do for us, but it’s about what God wants to do in us and through us, in this world.     



This healing authority and transforming power of God,  which Isaiah could hardly understand himself, and which Malachi became clearer about, through the struggle that he experience, is a power that comes to transform us, not from the outside in, but from the inside out.  That’s what Malachi reveals.   For God to reveal his power, we must allow God to use us.  We must prepare the way.  We must endure the challenge and delight in his coming to change us.  

How does this transformation come to us, both in our world and in our lives?   Malachi says everything we need to hear in one single line at the end of verse 3: ...Until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.   

For Jesus to come to us as Mighty God, we must be determine to present our offerings, or as Paul later writes, to present our own bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God’ (Rom. 12:1).   Yes, God comes.  Yes, God is.  Yes, God works in our world, but you will not know it, see it or show it, until you present your own life as an offering of righteousness to the Lord.   

We all know that old question whether or not a tree that falls in the woods actually makes a sound, if no one hears it.   Well, that same kind of question can be put to God, as to whether or not it is God does good in our world or it’s just us.

The answer to this question, like the answer about the sound of a falling tree, is arguable both ways, just like the truth about God’s mighty power.  When we do good, when we participate in helping, healing, caring or loving, it is us and it is God too.  God has come to put righteousness into us, and it is this offering, this resonating sound of righteousness that both pleases the Lord and proves to us that the Lord is near.  But of course, you still have to want to see, hear it, and know it.   God can be God all by himself.   The purpose of coming to us, and displaying his power, is that while God can be God without us, we can’t be ourselves, that is our—be our best selves, without the righteousness and healing power of God that is revealed Jesus Christ.  

Most of you have heard of Saint Augustine.  Since the 5th century, his personal spiritual prayer book, Confessions, has been one the most important writings outside of  the Bible.   What makes this writing so important, even for modern people, is that this the very first book to describe a human self as we still do.  No one ever really wrote about who they are so personally, so intimately, and so intentionally before.  It is clear that Augustine follows directly in the footsteps of the apostle Paul, but it’s also   It clear that Augustine only learns how to talk about himself—-his true, growing, and best sense of self, in his own personal, relational, spiritual life in God.  In Augustines’s prayers and thoughts,  you only hear him learning to say ‘I’, ‘my’ or ‘me’ as he prays you, thee and thou, O Lord.

This is how life still is, and it’s God still works, mightily.  God proves who God is, as he does his mighty work in and through us.   Through Jesus, God chose, not only to become one of us, but to live God’s life through us, as we live, and move, and have our being, in God.  In the human spirit God puts God’s spirit and make available to us, the greatest powers of all; faith, hope and love, and with God in you, and you in God, you know which power is the greatest.  Amen      




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