Today, we find ourselves entering the home stretch of the Advent season. Christmas is in three days and, per usual, I am in manic mode. There are gifts to finish purchasing, stockings to stuff, menus to plan, and goodies to bake. In all of my self-inflicted hustle and bustle, I sometimes forget to pause and reflect on why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Holidays can easily devolve from celebrations to chores if we’re not careful, and there are times I have teetered on that ledge–or nose-dived right off it!
This year, as part of my Advent practice, I decided to reflect on the writings of the minor prophets: specifically, the books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These three prophets lived and worked in the post-exilic period, after the Israelites had returned from Babylon. There was a lot of work to do–the land was in ruins. So this group devoted themselves to putting the pieces of their nation back together. It was busy work and, as happens in the midst of busyness, the people were neglecting God again. The prophets were there to remind them that, although the work of rebuilding the nation of Israel was important, most important was their continued faithfulness to God and his law. Kind of like our to-do lists, right?
And yet, I have found, that when we set aside our “must…keep…pushing…through” items and focus our souls on God, he shows up in such unexpected and remarkable ways that we can’t help but, as the hymn proclaims, stand in awesome wonder. My moment of awesome wonder came in my kitchen a few days ago, as I was sitting on the little wooden step stool my husband’s grandfather made long ago and which has become my Bible time stool. I was reading through the book of Malachi. Like his contemporaries Haggai and Zechariah, Malachi was urging the people to remain faithful to God, and chastising them for prioritizing other tasks and only giving God the left-overs of their daily lives. But Malachi was also speaking beyond the present, prophesying a time to come when God would judge between the faithful and the faithless, setting aside a people to call his own. Chapter four of Malachi ends this proclamation:
I quickly turned the page to see what would happen next, and was flummoxed to discover that there were no more words. What?! I thought to myself. That’s it? Truth be told, there’s one more verse–it says God will come and strike the land with total destruction. (Malachi 4:6) Quite the exclamation point! But I want to focus on the proclamation–the promise of Elijah before the day of the Lord’s arrival.
As I flipped ahead through the next several pages of historical commentary in my Bible, somewhat disgruntled by the lack of resolution on the author’s part, it dawned on me…Malachi ends abruptly because the story’s not done. Flipping quickly to the book of Matthew I sat, stunned, as I looked at the words before me. For the first time ever, I was awed, not by God’s word, but by a genealogical list of names.
Normally, when it comes to biblical genealogy, I just skim through it. But what stunned me, what awed me, weren’t the names themselves, but the fact that God had been continuing the story for generations, even after the prophets in Scripture had gone silent. Malachi spoke of the coming of Elijah in 430 B.C., and in the first-written synoptic gospel around 60 A.D., we have John the Baptist, an Elijah-like figure, living in the Judea wilderness and preaching a gospel of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Lord.
The final word in the Old Testament is a promise of the Lord’s coming. Then there’s silence. Time moves on. One generation gives way to the next. Nations rise and fall. Yet the minutiae of life keeps moving, like a time-lapse video, different figures blurring together as they move in an out of the same scene. Years pass…hundreds of them in which people are born, in which they live and laugh and love and cry, in which they die and are laid to rest with all of those who have gone before. And the Earth keeps turning.
It’s quiet. It’s ordinary. Until one day, in an ordinary time in an ordinary place, an angel delivers a message to a young man and a young woman that will change everything. While many people had long ago stopped expecting God’s promises to be fulfilled, God hadn’t forgotten. From Malachi to Matthew (and Mark and Luke) God had a plan, and what we celebrate at Christmas is the fulfillment of that plan.
This, then, is what fills me with awe. That God came in a moment when it was least expected–in a time when many had likely written off his promise of a messiah as a myth or legend–a story of hope to be shared, but not really to be anticipated. God continued the story…for thousands of years! And it’s a story he’s continuing to write–his words etched into the hearts of all those who love him–his promises yet to be fulfilled.
As the shepherds did on a night long ago, I stand (or sit) in awesome wonder of God’s work. I’m overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of his faithfulness. For me, this Christmas is about hope. The hope that God is faithful, that all of his promises will come to fruition in his time and in his way. God never gives up. He came when everyone least expected it, and in a way that no one could have foretold.
My prayer for you as we enter the Christmas season is that you, too, will have an experience of God that leaves you standing in awesome wonder. Are you looking? Are you waiting? Fear not! God will come.
Blessings and Peace,