Advent 20: Another Elijah

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Malachi 4:5-6

The Ultimate Cliffhanger

When I was growing up there were several TV shows that our family would watch together. You younger readers might not understand this, but it used to be that there were only a couple of TV networks and it seemed like everybody watched them. And there was no recording (unless you somehow figured out how to program your VCR) and no binging. You knew when your show would come on and you were home for it. The best shows were the ones that kept a continuous story going from week to week and they would build up to the end of the season. For weeks they would advertise the “season finale” and you couldn’t miss it. Inevitably at the end of the last show of the season, there would be a huge turn of events and you’d be left in suspense, not knowing how it would turn out. They had you. Now you’d have to wait until the next season before you could finally get the answer.

So why are we talking about this? Well, there is a sense in which this is what God did to his people with the Old Testament. When the Old Testament ends you have this amazing promise of God’s restored kingdom. Our passage for today contains the last 2 sentences of the Old Testament, but in order to understand the context let’s look at the verses that come right before this.

The Great Day of the Lord

It’s important to remember that Malachi is writing to a group of Jews who had recently come back to their homeland. You see God’s people had turned away from him so he sent foreign rulers to take them into captivity. But now they were returning. Look at the amazing message of hope that Malachi gives to them:

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 4:1-3

This is a proclamation of victory for God and for his people. Those who do evil will be judged and those who love the Lord will rejoice. It’s a really beautiful picture. I can only imagine the joy and the hope that God’s people would have received from this. It is truly “great and awesome”.

But when was it supposed to happen? That’s what’s crazy, they don’t know. God doesn’t tell them when this is going to happen. Instead, he gives them a sign so that will know when it does happen. That’s where our text for today comes in. He tells them that Elijah the prophet is going to come and he will turn the hearts of God’s people back to him.

This is confusing for several reasons. First, Elijah has been gone for over 400 years. And secondly, these are the last recorded words of the Old Testament. After this God stops speaking to his people for 400 years. All they know is that they need to be on the lookout for someone like Elijah.

Elijah: Take 2

If you aren’t super familiar with the Old Testament, the thing you need to know about the OT prophets is that they were most definitely outliers. These were guys that didn’t care at all about social norms and cared only about being obedient to God. Sometimes you see them walking around half-naked, sometimes they lay on their side for over a year, and sometimes they build little dirt models of cities. One of these kids is doing his own thing.

Who do you think this verse is describing: “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.”? You’re probably thinking John the Baptist, but nope, this is Elijah (from 2 Kings 1:8). When John comes on the scene he looks exactly like this, because in reality, John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus even tells us this in Matthew 11.

Reflection

All of the Old Testament, from the first book to the last book, is all about Jesus. From the beginning, we saw that God promised a great serpent killer who would come to save us. Here in the last chapter, we see that God is still keeping his promise, and to make it even easier for us to understand, he is sending one last prophet. When we look back on this through the lens of the Gospel, it is so clear to us. John the Baptist lived like Elijah, preached like Elijah, he even dressed like Elijah. When he came on the scene 2,000 years ago it was to prepare the way for Jesus.

As we continue to prepare ourselves for celebrating the birth of Jesus we need to remember the message of John the Baptist. John was focused on turning the hearts of his hearers back to God the Father. They needed to repent. What about us? Are we prepared? Have we repented? Are our hearts turned to the Father?

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