Monday, October 14, 2013

Malachi 1:1-14

This is the first Old Testament lection assigned to Year D, i.e., for the First Sunday of Advent. Chosen primarily for the latter and larger portion (1:6-14) of this chapter, the whole chapter (1:1-14) has nevertheless been suggested. The opening section is admittedly difficult, contrasting the LORD's love of Jacob with his hatred of (or judgment against) Esau (Edom). If there is a ray of hope in this stark and startling text, it is surely in the conditional clause: "If Edom says, '... we will rebuild ...," only then will the LORD tear down "until they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the LORD is angry forever" (v. 4). In other words, the threat of irreversible divine anger is not a certainty for Esau, but is conditional, based on whether Esau repents of rebuilding (i.e., resisting and refusing to accede to God's judgment). Perhaps this thorny opening passage may be best treated in conjunction with Romans 9:13 (see 28th Ordinary), but such an inflammatory text should not be introduced without a word of hope, and in this case, as in the New Testament generally, the Lord does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance" (2Peter 3:9), a major theme of Year D.

More to the point for the Sunday in question, the oracular ministry of Malachi generally and the closing section of this chapter specifically (1:6-14) raise Advent themes on a number of levels. Broadly speaking, Malachi ("my messenger") forecasts the coming of the preparer of the way (3:1a; cf. Isa 40:3), and the sending of Elijah as the forerunner "before the great and terrible day of the LORD" (4:5). More narrowly, 1:6–14 raises the issue of a corrupt priesthood that habitually offers corrupt sacrifices of damaged, blemished, imperfect, and lame offerings from the flock. This in turn provides a fitting framework for the priestly and sacrificial focal points of the gospel and epistle lections, both in terms of their strictly human counterparts in Zechariah and John, and their fulfillment in the coming Messiah as holy lamb for the atonement and high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

The First Sunday of Advent is often an occasion for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, thus, the surprising reference to "the Lord's table" being polluted or profaned (v. 12) should invite (at very least) an attitude of self-examination; while the threshold of a new liturgical year serves as a fitting occasion to invite the people of God to offer a pure, whole, and whole-hearted thank offering to the LORD, with the reminder that the Messiah himself has gone before us and offered just such a perfect human offering on our behalf and modeled such worship for us to imitate.

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