When you get ready for work or school in the morning, what’s one of the first things you look for? You shower, get dressed, find some breakfast, but somewhere among all those things don’t you often look to see what the weather will be? You need to know if you’ll need close toed shoes or sandals, if there’s need of an umbrella or the raincoat or a coat at all. Sometimes, the weather dictates what you’ll do – rake the leaves or not, ice-skating or not, day at the beach or not. One place we look to help is the weather forecast. The news reports lots of stuff but very often, to us, the most important is simply the weather. We rely on that man or woman (or our phone app) to relay what the weather will be: sunshine or rain, freezing temperatures or balmy humidity, dangerous roads or great traveling weather.
We’re almost asking the weatherperson to tell the future for us – to predict – but it’s just about the weather so, if they’re wrong…no big deal, we get wet or cold or our picnic is ruined. But what about the real future, as we look ahead to God’s great last day? That’s a topic about which we’d often like more information, wouldn’t you say? We’d like a future-cast so that we can be ready. Just such a thing the prophet Malachi does for us tonight. His time was about 500 years before Jesus; his people were Jews, back from captivity and living in Jerusalem. His message was, in part, about God’s final judgment coming. In a sense, and so that they could be prepared, Malachi the spiritual weatherman was giving God’s people An Advent Forecast.
Now, if you’re like me, you have a little cynicism about the weather report. Often it’s wrong: sometimes just so, now and again dead wrong – rain on the parade, unexpected snow storm…you know. For that reason, they give the weather report with words like “chance of…rain, snow, etc.” Sometimes they even lay out a dual forecast: “Well, tomorrow could look pretty sunny all day long, but know that there’s a chance of rain in there too.” Here’s what Malachi’s Advent Forecast looks like: Heat like the burning of an oven – not “wear sunscreen” hot, but combust people in a whirlwind of fiery destruction hot; paired with warm, comforting sunshine – weather so good you’ll dance in the ashes of those who burned. Malachi’s forecast says these two different things at the same time. It’s an Advent Forecast for Burning or Basking…Depending.
Depending on what? Well, very simply, your outlook on the Advent Forecast, really depends on your fear. Malachi’s simply painting a picture of two groups. The first is unbelievers. About them we could say they have no fear or no respect for or trust in God. You heard the prophet, “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire.” Like those California wildfires… Arrogant and evildoer are the pride of sin – a trust in what I know or can do, in what I can see or touch or feel, in my own emotion, my own desire – as opposed to what God has declared to be true or good or right. That lack of fear in anything God promises means the promise of true and unreserved terror as they with their unholy sin meet God and his demand to “Be holy”. And they’ll finally figure it out, burning to ash.
The second part of the forecast picture pertains to a different group. One that understands that last fear. They know the terror of absolutely lacking holiness; of being filled with their daily and natural sin. They know about standing before the blazing rightness of God’s glory and being deservedly consumed. But somewhere along the line that fear was traded for a fear that is faith, or respect for all that God is and promises. The Almighty LORD calls them literally, “You who fear my name…” Theirs instead is that almost enchanting feeling of a sunrise: like on a cold morning when you get out of the car at work and it’s freezing cold; then the sun breaks over the roof of the church and draws its yellow blanket over everything… and you can feel it warm in your bones; it’s just good. Here is the sun of warming care and healing and love. It’s so good that these fearers of God dance about, jumping for joy, unbeliever ash dusting their heels, puffing the air. And the amazing thing is that this sun in which they bask is the same righteous glory that burned to piles of ash those who didn’t fear.
The real question though is, “Which forecast is yours?” Is it burning or basking? Well, that depends on the promise of your forecast. And, with any weather forecast, that’s all we really want normally, isn’t it? We aren’t expecting a “futurecast”, as though the weatherperson can tell exactly what’s coming. And we’re not expecting a “me-cast” either, as if we could punch up the personal weather menu and pick out what we’d like. No, we normally just want something promising. The prospect that, in general, it’ll be bearable or passable or safe weather for travel. We look for something we can generally count on, trust in…
In the world of the spiritual forecast though, do you ever ask for the other? Do you struggle with the Advent Forecast in this way? Do you struggle with the enemy nature of our world – against your faith, your words, God’s Word? Do you wonder what’s coming for you – wish/want for certain, specific things in your fear? Do you watch as God’s weather system moves? Realize that you’re a droplet in the driven storm? Your stay in the hospital, your failing health; all your plans turned on their head and moments filled with the failing of this world? Do you wonder in fear, waiting for burning retribution as you design it? Do you watch for your moment in the sun, specific like your Christmas list? Do you look for a me-cast, the exact rendering of spiritual, economic, and political weather you’d like for you? And then perhaps lack confidence because you’re not really looking ahead. You’re forgetting the promise of God’s forecast?
This was part of the trouble for Malachi’s people. They were back in Jerusalem and they thought everything should be great again. They were God’s people, they thought, so good things should come – the kind of things they wanted. Part of Malachi’s message was accusation to say, “Pay attention to what God really wants from you and also to what he really promises.” Do not live for yourselves, but in the ways of God that show you rely on what he promises to you. And his comfort came in someone who would make those promises of God’s unending love and reliability clearly. Malachi said in v.5, ““See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
Jesus was very clear about this Elijah Malachi mentioned. Elijah was long dead by Malachi’s time. He wasn’t talking about that dead Elijah, but a new one coming. One who would call people’s hearts back to God. In the Gospels, Jesus called John the Baptist the Elijah who would come – to prepare the way for the Savior promised. Zechariah, John’s father, spoke of the real promise in his son when John was born. You heard him tonight, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79) There it is – Malachi was promising one who would prepare the way for all the promise the world would ever need.
This is the promise in Malachi’s forecast. As those who feared God’s name looked ahead to the Savior promised, their guilt was covered over, wiped out. We who fear God’s name look back in faith at the Savior who came. His promising work wipes out our fearful sins, the me-forecast desires, and replaces it with actual rightness before God. His reliable work replaces the unreliable “iffiness” of our own outlook and gives the only reliable forecast of things. Advent is about preparing like this – heeding the voices of the prophets of old, the pointing of the one who prepared the way – and looking to the Son, Jesus Christ. His righteousness has risen and shines. He heals the pains of sin with forgiveness. He conquers the power of death with his life. And he promises we will basking in the warmth of God’s love and belong in his presence, even be joyful at his judgment. Connected by the fear of faith to Jesus, our forecast is a promising one of comfort in salvation that is complete and that will be seen so soon.
As for those other forecasts? The weatherperson is just a reporter. They read the signs and tell the future, at least as they guess it. This spiritual weatherman, Malachi, tells the future fact of God’s Advent Forecast. It is a day God is making. In order to bask in the sun of God’s righteousness then, we fear God’s Son, Jesus, now. In order to make it through this dark world of sin, we look to the light of his promise: the forgiving love of God in Jesus. He assures that, no matter what today or tomorrow looks like, one thing’s certain: our forecast is for clear, warm sun and a promising future in God’s peace.