The King’s Herald and Messenger

Advent 2-C, December 6, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA
http://www.tlcsd.org

SORRY, NO AUDIO FOR THIS MESSAGE.

How do you feel about unannounced guests arriving at your home? I think most of us would agree that it usually is not a good thing!  If it’s a good friend or family member, well, ok—come as you are and we’ll take you as we are. But what if someone rather special—say your boss, the media, or maybe your pastor just showed up out of no where with no warning?

Sometimes, in the time of our Old Testament reading, leaders—and kings—would arrived unannounced; they wanted to surprise their subjects so that they could discover the truth. I think we would all agree that announced visits by anyone are always preferred.

Finally, two things are worth noting in relation to our text today. First, we need to understand the important role that messengers or heralds played; they were the individuals who announced the coming of the king.  And then we need to understand what it usually meant for the king himself to come visit his people.

Our Old Testament text this morning [Malachi 3:1-7a] begins like this, “Look, I am about to send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” [Mal 3:1]

Messengers were an important part of the way that the ancient world communicated. Long before the Internet and email, long before CNN or telephone and telegraph, even before the pony express, it was the feet of messengers that brought the important news. And the news was generally good. If it was bad, well, it wasn’t worth reporting, and the king usually didn’t want you to know about it any how. Of course, sometimes the news was not what people wanted to hear, and that’s where we get the old saying: “don’t kill the messenger.”

So we can say that the messenger came to “prepare the way” for the king. The Old Testament prophets used this image to prepare the people for the coming – not just of any king, like David or Hezekiah, but for the great and glorious “once and for all” King Who was yet to come.

Today we consider the words of Malachi, whose name itself means “my messenger.” You see, the prophets were also the “messengers of God” who not only prepared the way but also communicated the message from the King of the kingdom of God to His people of faith.

So in a sense Malachi is serving as a herald in announcing that another herald after him, would announce the coming of the king.

So now that we’ve been warned, how do we prepare? Both Isaiah and Malachi use language that describes clearing the road: getting rid of obstacles. Isaiah actually talks about a highway, like a superhighway that would provide smooth travel for the King; no traffic lights, no CalTrans construction, nothing in the way. But it was God who actually did the preparation, through his servants. The people were to simply anticipate the coming of their King.

And that brings us to a question that will lead us to the second important understanding: What did it mean for the king to come? Again, we need to think about this question with an Old Testament mindset. Kings marched home to their capital city in a victory parade; that’s just what kings did. Do you remember from last weeks message the close relation between the king and his city? This morning we think about the king himself coming home to his royal city. The grand processional included a good deal of pomp and circumstance. He was to be recognized and honored for whatever victories, conquests, and spoils of the nations that he was bringing with him. It was all about the king, and he did not come unannounced.

But did you catch the subtle little word in our text, “suddenly.” The whole point of this passage is about the messenger who’s only job was to prepare the way, and about people who were “seeking” their kingly lord. You would think they would be well prepared. Yet when “the Lord” comes, he comes suddenly.

So, dear saints, 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, then at least trickled down from rich to poor?

In Malachi’s day the people were expecting God to come and finally fix the problems of an unjust world.

They thought that the kingdom of God should be doing better than it was.  To them, God seemed to have somehow lost His vigor and power over the nations in the last few waning centuries.  So the people were waiting, they were wanting for something greater to happen. They had witnessed a lack of good leadership in their kings, and even the devotion of the people seemed to be dying or dead.   And now the priests were losing their edge, taking any old sacrifice as long as it came with money to fund the temple or grease the palms of the priests. Many people had lost their trust in the way of God, and they were just going through the motions; if the priests simply did the ritual, they thought they’d be fine, no matter how they chose to live their lives, attended to their marriages, families, and vocations. The way they looked at things, was that God was certainly big enough to accept a wide variety of spiritual practices and conduct!

But “suddenly” the whole scene seems to shift from a joyous occasion to pending gloom here in our text. The eager expectation of the coming king is met by the sudden and striking question: “who can endure the day of his coming?” Something seems terribly wrong here. The king was supposed to bring the wealth of the nations, whether gained justly or not, to his kingdom. The enemies were the ones who should be punished for practicing injustice; they knew nothing about good and evil, but these heralds are saying that the punishment would begin right here within the king’s  kingdom! And those who wanted justice – well, they were going to get it. And those who thought God should reward their self-­‐‑asserted goodness in a better way, well, they are going to realize that they’re not as good as they thought they were. And those who thought that God should punish evil, well, they are going to find out that the evil they want punished is a lot closer to them than they thought; it’s within their own hearts!

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap” (this was long before ivory was 99.44% pure and gentle!). And he will purify the sons of Levi, yes starting first with the corrupt priests and leaders, but then moving on to the common folk and their weak and pathetic sacrifices and offerings.

And you see, this is really a good thing! It might not be what we expected, or even what we wanted, but it is what was truly needed. “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord—purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean!” (Ps 51:10, 7).

What could be worse than thinking you’re doing all the right things, when you’re not? What is worse than telling God how to be King, when he is King, and you are not? Do we want to be clean or just “blessed” in our mess?

Yes, the King is coming, this Lord whom we are seeking. And He has a few surprises for us, and for everyone, when He comes. But he is not coming unannounced. John the Baptist made sure of that (actually it was God working behind the prophet, who was his messenger, remember, to prepare the way). John had some hard and harsh words to say, too, as we heard in this weeks Gospel reading. [Luke 3:1-14]

And just behind John came Jesus Himself, but he didn’t come like other kings; no, He came as the very Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. And it is this very truth that completely separates Jesus from all other types of kings and leaders. You see, the message that both John and Jesus brings isn’t about conquest and victory; it isn’t about distribution of wealth and physical blessings; it’s a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. If we are to have justice, then it will come by God’s mercy and 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, and he gave them justice; he exposed their sin, yes, our sin, but then he let our justice be done and paid for by His own suffering and agony, as He, through His life-blood and death paid for our sins himself.

The Lord, whom we are seeking, came to his temple. At one point He even mimicked the king’s triumphant entry, but it was a parody; He came upon a donkey and not a steed; He came in a procession leading sinners and rag-a-muffins rather than the king’s parade accompanied by warriors. A procession that eventually continued down and out of the city He had entered, and then up a steep hill called Golgotha.  Why, you ask?  Because He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom, for YOU.

And then, but only then, came the victory parade: not into the city, but out of the tomb!  He came to those hiding in an upper room, scared of the world out there! And then, He went out to Galilee, back to Jerusalem, and sent His peculiar people of faith, His redeemed sinners and rag-a-muffins He calls Christians, out with a mission and message to herald his kingdom to the end of the earth.

And then he left, but He WILL come again. Will his return be unannounced? Certainly not!  God used Malachi, and then John, as his messengers, his heralds the first time Christ came. And now, God wants his coming to be announced again. We know he is coming, soon, even though it may well come “suddenly.” But he has announced it. And He asks us 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 waiting for His arrival. It is the Lord that we are seeking. Our expectant hearts turn to the preparations at hand. Repent, for the kingdom of God is, indeed, at hand! AMEN.

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