December 13, 2020
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
All the Christmas songs tell you to feel good. They tell you to picture scenes of bells jingling, children laughing, peppermint sticks, presents, trees, snow and good cheer. These songs want to put everyone in the same mood. After a year that may have been good or bad, for a scrooge or a saint, the encouragement at Christmas is to get rid of the dividing lines and have one season of peace. It’s a lofty goal those Christmas carols are striving for because you cannot simply unplug from the pressure and responsibilities of life by plugging into the pretty and resplendent lights of a Christmas tree.
The healing Christmas promises the world does not come from Christmas lights on your house or tree, but from the Christmas Light. There is a difference between someone who fills up on Christmas spirit by eating cookies and drinking eggnog in a room filled with glitter, sparkle and shine, and someone who is filled up by the Spirit with words that feed the soul. We are given those fulfilling words in John 1, 6 “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” John’s powerful message of repentance and forgiveness was far different from the mainstream message. John the Baptist had to point the people away from himself and themselves to Jesus. John was not the promised Savior and the people could not save themselves because they were all born in the darkness of sin. “The darkness of sin” does not sound like the basis for a catchy Christmas tune, but it was the truth the people needed to hear.
The darkness of sin must be addressed to show the division between darkness and the Light. The words God spoke through the prophet Malachi shed light on the sins of Israel. Malachi gave clear examples of the people’s sin. In Malachi 1, the prophet wrote, 13 “When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. 14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.” God had clear rules for lambs without blemish or defect to be sacrificed, which all pointed to the Savior’s perfect sacrifice, but the Israelites were offering their rejects as sacrifices. It would be like, no wait…worse, than going shopping at the county dump to get presents for your family. And, in Malachi 2, 17 “You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?” The people were short sighted thinking that because they saw those opposed to God enjoy temporary blessings that God was pleased with evil or unjust for not punishing them immediately. Rather, God is patient hoping that even the evil will hear the word and come to faith. Also, God’s punishment does come for those who do evil, and the worst of it is after their death in the torments of hell. Also, in Malachi 3, 14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’” Here the real hearts of the people are revealed. They are tired of serving God and repenting of their sins. They see no point in denying their sinful, selfish desires, no point in repentance and sorrow over their sin, and no point in loving God and taking care of other’s needs before their own. They do not want the good God promises on his terms, they want to feel good now on their terms. So, God made it clear what the result will be for those who mock him and turn back to their sins in the opening verses of Malachi 4, 1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.” For those who critical of God for allowing evildoers to be blessed, God promises full justice and complete punishment. And, for those tempted to join the evildoers in their rejection of God and his good will, there stands the threat of God’s wrath.
There is a clear division made at Christmas. You and I so easily trade a party with Christmas cookies over a communion service. You and I teach our kids “Jingle Bells” over Jesus blood shed for them. You and I bring what is left after filling the bottom of our tree to put a little something at the base of the tree made into a cross. You and I fantasize about playing out our secret desires, rather than faithfully following the footsteps of those believers recorded in Scripture. There is a clear division made at Christmas between those waiting for what is under the tree and those waiting for the one who was hung on a tree. Not waiting for the day of the Lord and giving into halfhearted worship and use of the gifts he has given you, jealousy or envy of unbelievers and impatience at God for not blessing you with what you want tempts you as much as it did the Israelites of Malachi’s day. And, for those temptations you’ve unwrapped to indulge in the sin inside, there is punishment. Punishment Jesus took for you.
The good news of the dividing day is the healing it brings. There are many dividing days spoken of in Scripture. Christmas served as one of those dividing days. On that day, a divide was made between light and darkness. The pure, good and perfect Son of God was born a man to destroy the darkness that held the world. Malachi wrote, 2 “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Jesus’ coming was the healing you needed. Jesus lived each day of his life worshiping God, using all his gifts for the glory of God and to serve others, acted with compassion toward others and patiently waited until the time was right to experience none of God’s blessings, only his wrath and punishment. For each dark temptation and sin that leaves your heart a block of stone, or better yet a lump of coal ready to be burned up in the fire of hell, Jesus died to forgive you. And, Jesus lived the good and perfect life without sin, a life of righteousness, so that you now have a record of righteousness. You will go to heaven forgiven and set free with a spotless, clean, unblemished record to live with God in joy and peace, to have all the joy of a young calf running through the fields.
Remember what your Lord has done for you until the diving day comes. Another dividing day in Scripture is the Last Day or Judgment Day when Jesus will come to earth the second time to bring all believers to heaven and send the unbelievers to hell. Malachi, John the Baptist (called Elijah in the Old Testament prophecies, often then referred to as the ‘second Elijah’) and the rest of Scripture were written to keep you ready for healing on that day as recorded in Malachi 4, 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” God’s promise to send the second Elijah as John the Baptist to call the people to repentance and point to Jesus, the Light of the World, happened. Jesus was born, lived, died, rose and ascended into heaven. Many who have heard these words have believed, and so parents and children have rejoiced together in faith during this season. And as you wait with your parents or children, the Apostle Paul gives you good encouragement for remembering the promised healing of Jesus so that you are found on the side of the Lord on his dividing day. In 1 Thessalonians 5, we are encouraged to 16 “Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.” Whatever this Christmas season, this past year or your whole life has left you feeling, you have every reason to be glad because of what God has given you in Jesus. He is the greatest gift. Whatever messages, traditions or decorations you are surrounded by this Christmas season do not get lost in the temporary cheer, hold on to the eternal joy of Jesus your Savior. And parents of any age, teach your children the true meaning of Christmas. And children of any age, remind your parents of the true meaning of Christmas.
Many songs are sung this time of year encouraging you to feel good. There is a difference between those that rely on temporary and tinsel to make you feel something, and those songs sung to remind you of the darkness of your sin you were delivered from because the light of the world, your Savior Jesus was born to heal you from sin, death and hell, to give you the eternal gifts of forgiveness, life and heaven. The dividing day will bring healing to those who remember the Lord. Amen.