Advent 2, Year C–Malachi 3:1-4

We read this passage in our worship service last Sunday as the prophetic passage for the first Sunday of Advent. It is one of my favorites.

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.

Malachi 3:1

Much is happening here, but it starts with the promise of a messenger. I would like to begin by asking you to think what a weird word choice this is for the Lord. We expect the Lord to send a prophet, one like Samuel, perhaps. We expect the Lord to send a king, maybe one like David. We expect the Lord to send a priest? Like Aaron.

He doesn’t send those. He sends the messenger. I think this is a play on words with the title of the book. The word Malachi means “My Messenger” — and 3:1 might be a self-reference by the author. Maybe he views himself as the messenger. Likewise, I have often though of the similarities between the idea of “messenger” here in Malachi 3:1 and the New Testament word “angel” which is roughly the same–a messenger from God.

Jesus identified John the Baptist as this messenger in Matthew 11:10. That makes, for me, the word choice of messenger that much telling. Why doesn’t it say, “I will send my prophet, or my priest, or my king”? The answer is because Jesus himself is the prophet, the priest, and the king. The messenger can’t be, in relation to the ultimate, any of those. The messenger must decrease, while the Lord must increase (John 3:30).

After The Messenger’s work is done, the Lord will do two things:

  1. Suddenly appear in the temple.
  2. He will purify and refine the sons of Levi

Of course, the language Malachi uses is more beautiful than this.

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple . . . who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? for he is like a refiners fire and like a fuller’s soap . . . he will purify the sons of Levi . . . and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord

Malachi 3:1-4

Before we jump to the many messianic concepts here, we must do the work of context. In the book of Malachi there is one central complaint from God: the priests have neglected their work and have brought polluted and inappropriate offerings before the Lord. This is spelled out strongly in Malachi 1. Later, this pollution of sacrifices will be connected to the call for tithes and offerings to be again given by the people and collected by the priests. Malachi finishes abruptly with a flourish about The Day of the Lord.

So, in context, Malachi is looking for the Lord to first send a messenger with a warning, whom Malachi might see as himself, that the priests need to get their act straight because the Lord is coming to purify the priesthood through reform of the offerings.

We can spend a lot of time critiquing the priesthood in the Old Testament, but it is enough to say here that it failed, and that failure was total and complete by the time Jesus arrives on the scene in the early first century. Jesus was many things, and one of those was a reformer and critic of the priests, as was John the Baptist. To emphasize the point, there is a reason why John the Baptist was out in he desert baptizing: he was protesting the Jerusalem temple complex and the priesthood.

The reader of these words from Malachi would do well to connect them, though, not to John the Baptist, but to Jesus cleansing the temple (Mark 11:15-19), running out the priests and their polluted, greedy sacrifices, then teaching every day until the priests gathered enough courage to have Jesus arrested and murdered. But the priests fell into his hands, because this was the way he purified and washed. His blood was the soap and his cross was the fire. What he did, then, was, as Peter put it, was to reject the Hebrew priesthood for something new–a complete reform with a new kind of priest, the priesthood of the believer with immediate access, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, to the Lord.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light

1 Peter 2:9

THE GIVER: A BOOK REVIEW

Actually, this is a book review of The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry. There are four books in all, even though most people are only familiar with the first one because it is on many high school reading lists, and also because of the unfortunate movie. I say unfortunate, not because I didn’t like it. I liked it, before I read the book. I liked it because Jeff Bridges is so good in it and the narrative pacing is tight. But after reading the books, I decidedly hated the movie adaption as it seemed to miss most of the main points of the book(s).

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The four books are, in order: The Giver, Finding Blue, Messenger, and Son. I enjoyed them all, but Gathering Blue is the best, by far, of the four. A tiny disclaimer here, I read the bulk of these while on vacation on the sugar white beaches of Destin, Florida underneath a yellow umbrella enjoying the perfect ocean mist. Environment can often dictate how one feels about the art being consumed.

 

What I Really Liked

I really liked the way in which Lois Lowry develops characters. Jonas, Kira, Matty, and Claire are each complex, believable, and likeable adolescents. I really liked that there are two male and two female leads, providing balance to the narrative arc. Jonas is the dominant character, but for my taste Kira is the best character. The opening pages of Gathering Blue provide such a rich description not only of her physical situation but also of her emotional, psychological, sociological, and spiritual condition that one feels as if they’ve known Kira their whole life. At least I did.

Some of the tertiary characters can be shallow at times, or even clichés but I can forgive that because the MC’s are amazing.

There are two other things I really liked, and both are unique to these books. One, I loved the vehement pro-life message woven through the novels. I don’t mean this in a political sense, because Lowry is not writing from a Christian worldview. I mean in the sense that life, in all its stages, is viewed as precious and honored in the book. This life is often viewed as fragile in the midst of a world that would destroy the weak, the unwanted, and the old.

Two, I really liked the almost prophetic nature of the books set against our contemporary times. This is particularly true in Messenger. It was written in 2004–twelve years ago, but there is a major character in that book who acts as a strongman attempting to build a literal wall around the village to keep the flow of migrants/immigrants from coming in. There are other nearly prophetic elements as well regarding the ethics of medicine, redefinition of family units, and many other things.

 

What I liked

I liked the readability of these books. There are four of them, but I read them in the time of a regular novel. The easy reading is  part of the YA nature of the books, but also it is part of Lowry’s clear writing style. She does not use a lot of words when not needed.

I liked the recycling of characters–I try to do this in my own writing and greatly admired it in these books.

I liked the “Question authority” feel of the novels. I have learned that some schools don’t allow these books because they encourage a questioning of authority and, to some extent, rebellion in the face of evil. I like that about these books. Too many people automatically trust “The person in the white lab coat” or the “Guy behind the desk” when in reality these people are often wrong, or worse, manipulative. Experts might be smart, but they also have agendas.

I like the way she uses symbolism, metaphor, and allegory to connect with me as a reader.

 

What I Didn’t Like

There was one part of The Giver Quartet I didn’t like. This is true of almost every book–there is always something that doesn’t settle right with me. The last book, Son, feels too rushed. I actually think Lowry should have written more on Claire’s transformation in a stand alone book, and then wrote a fifth book to finish out the storyline. She jams too much into the last book.

That’s it, that is my only complaint.

Final Evaluation

Loved the books. They are suitable for all ages, but are ideal for young adults. People who enjoy Harry Potter, fantasy, science fiction, character stories, dystopia, and tales of good and evil will enjoy these excellent reads.