Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Malachi's Christmas (Malachi 2:17 - 3:5)

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I loved the relaxed time, spending all day together with my family for several days in a row. For many of us Christmas means family time.

But food always goes together with family. In my house there was always more food than we could possibly eat: turkey, honey-baked ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce (sometimes still shaped like the can), and best of all pumpkin pie with whipped cream and pecan pie with old-fashioned vanilla ice cream. (I know I’m making myself hungry, too!) Nothing says Christmas like the sin of gluttony!

And of course there are presents. My mom has two great spiritual gifts: giving and shopping. Christmas at our house overflowed with all of my mom’s bargain gifts. Christmas gift-giving is such an important image in American culture that economists gauge the health of the entire economy based on Christmas shopping.

And the presents have to go under a Christmas tree. Through some accident of history, green triangle shaped trees have become one of the world’s most recognizable symbols of the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus.

In Korea, Christmas is primarily a couples’ holiday – something like Valentines Day. It’s a time for young people to go to the movies and take long romantic walks in the cold night air.

Some people think mostly about the songs and the movies. Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Charlie Brown Christmas.

For Christians, the primary images of Christmas are often a little different (at least when we’re thinking about church stuff). We usually think about Christmas carols and special Christmas Choir Cantatas. We think about the classic Christmas songs: “Away in a Manger,” “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and others. These songs are always full of joy and appreciation for God’s greatest gift to the world – Jesus.

And of course, the single greatest image of Christmas for Christians is the baby in the manger – or feeding trough. Most Sunday School kids can draw that baby in the wooden box with the X-shaped legs and hay. We might even add a nice yellow glow of light coming from the quiet little baby in the hay.

Our images of God’s coming into the world are overwhelmingly positive. We think of joy and peace, family and friends, comfort and abundance. Even when we think theologically, our thoughts are deeply positive: light and salvation and grace and peace for the world and good news for all humankind.

Many of the Bible’s texts do lead us in this direction. But not today’s text. Today’s text is from the prophet Malachi – the last prophet recorded in the Old Testament. Listen as Malachi explains God’s coming into the world. This is Malachi’s Christmas.

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