Waimea United Church of Christ

 

Malachi 3:1-7     “Draw Close to Jesus”

 

            Although our text this morning is officially from chapter three, I think it is important to look at the context a bit, so I invite you to turn back to the first words in Chapter 1. There we read: “An oracle. . . .” Some bibles will say instead of oracle “a burden.” Others will read “the sentence.” The true Hebrew word here “masha” means “burden.” It is followed with the Hebrew word for “word,” “debar.” It is something that is spoken that is a burden.

            The other day I was driving towards the other side of the island just coming up the Waimea bridge when a huge pick-up truck came up behind me and tailgated me with about two inches to spare. Next he came around my side and proceeded to cross the double-yellow line, forcing me to drive off the road to the right. Then, as he sped up even more, he stuck his hand out the side window and gave me “the finger.”

            Two things to note: I had been driving the speed limit when he passed me, and we reached Hanapepe at the same time despite his angry driving. He just got behind the next person, whom he also tailgated.

            I could only think to myself that this man must have a terrible burden in his life that he would be so incredibly angry. As I followed him down the road, I began to think to myself what that burden might be.  Perhaps he does not have enough money to pay for the big truck he is driving. Perhaps he has no friends because he is always so angry.

            Malachi’s burden was not one of anger or finances. His was a good and righteous burden. His burden was for the Word of God. I think we have a choice as to which burdens we carry. Specifically we can read in the next verse that God is sharing his love for us, but that we are not reacting as we should. We should be drawing closer to God, instead we are pulling away. We are not choosing to take on this burden as we should.

            Let us read that verse together: “I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” Isn’t this strange? God says that He loves us, and we respond: “Oh yah? Prove it!” Why would we ever doubt God’s love? And, does not God hear us just the same and in fact proves His love for us? John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son.”

            God knows, however, that we have indeed been faithless towards Him. The most amazing thing about the Good News of the gospel of Jesus is that God knows for sure that we have been faithless towards Him. Yet, he still loves us and wants to save us.

            In all of our faithlessness towards God, we turn our own lack of trust in God against God Himself. We begin to say: “God has no faith in us.” This just is not true. 2 Timothy 2:11-13, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; If we endure, we will also reign with him: If we deny him, he will also deny us; If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” God will maintain faith in His creation. Even when we lose faith, God still will have faith in us.

 

            So, we must understand that God sends the baby Jesus to us not because we have faith, but rather because God has faith in us. Isn’t that an amazing idea?! 

            Let me share with you another amazing concept: Up unto this point in human history God has never drawn as close to his Creation, to all of us. Some people when they consider God keep Him outside of their own realities. This is as if God is on a cruise ship just on the other side of the horizon that we see when we look out towards the ocean.

            At night from the shore of our island sometimes I can look out and see a light from some ship or boat that I did not even know was out there during the day. Maybe only the mast of ship is above the horizon. So, at night we just see this little beacon, telling us that someone is actually out there.

            The last time in the history of humanity that God appeared was recorded in Exodus 3 when Moses approaches a burning bush. The voice of God actually tells Moses “Come no closer.” That is in verse 5. It is not as if Moses can go give God a hug, a fist bump, or even a high five. It seems that although God is visible to Moses, God is on that other side of the spiritual horizon still.

            The message from out text in Malachi this morning is very specific in noting that God is breaking through that spiritual horizon. God is drawing closer to us than God has ever been before. Not only will we be able to hug God, we will be able to pick him up out of a manger and hold Him in our arms!

           

            This kind of closeness can be frightening. I recall once being down at Salt Pond swimming laps back and forth when all of the sudden I had this sense that I was not alone in the water. I looked up towards the beach and saw many people coming down to the water’s edge with their cameras and phones. I quickly scanned around me to discover that there was a baby monk seal not far behind me.

            At first I was relieved that it was not a shark. Then it crossed my mind that perhaps this monk seal was looking for its mother and that I might be in a bit of a bind here. More tourists gathered on the beach. As you all know, when monk seals come ashore the lifeguards post signs and warning tape around the seal. So, I looked to the lifeguard tower to see if the man would come and tape off the seal in the water for me. There was no reaction from the tower at all. I was alone in this moment.

            The monk seal with his big brown eyes was coming ever closer. I think he had a smile on his face. He had that same look in his eyes as my dog just before he licks my face.  I started to back away slowly. That seal just kept on inching closer in the water. It crossed my mind that showing fear might be the worst thing to do. So, I put out my hand in a fist like one does so the dog can sniff you. I also thought that I might need to tap it on the nose. This finally made the monk seal dive under and around me. I turned and was happy to see that the seal was in the process of beaching itself on the sand now. And, because he was now on the sand, I finished my laps.

            This same monk seal spent the next few months down at Salt Pond. And yes, we had occasion to meet in the water again. The next encounters I was not so disturbed by the seal as nothing had happened the first time. Still the tourists were out there with their cameras. I think I became like the “monk seal whisperer.”

            God, when you decide to come again, I hope that you will not come as monk seal! Because when you draw close, people are going to be afraid. Please, Lord, find a way that you can come to be with us that would not cause us to back away in fear at the same time. Maybe you should draw near to us a little baby? Nobody is afraid of a baby. Everybody wants to draw near to a baby. That would be a really good way to draw near again to us so that we can likewise draw near to you.

 

            In verse 2 of our scripture for today we have this incredible question: “Who can stand before the Lord when he appears?” Then thereafter we read about how God will purify our hearts. This prophecy applies to all. We will all have to stand before God. “Who will stand before the Lord when he draws near?” I don’t know, but we will all have to stand before God one day. How did the shepherds or wise men stand before God on Christmas morning?

            James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. . . .cleanse your hands and purify your hearts. . . .” If we are drawing closer to a God that is drawing closer to us, then we have got to begin to cleanse ourselves first.

            When my first daughter was born, I was in the room with Helen—and soon enough Carolyn. I was not robed up or anything. I did not wear a mask. But then, after Carolyn was born and I wanted to see my daughter, the nurses made me scrub up as if I were a surgeon, gowned me, capped me, and put the surgical mask over my face. What? Did they not know I was the baby’s father and had been in the room at the time of birth? Did they not know that the child was going home with me soon enough? It was really strange. They would not let me see my own child without all these precautions. Yet, if that is what I have to do in order to be with my child, then that is what I do!

            In the prophecy of Malachi, we have a list of things we need to clean up before we think of being in the Lord’s presence: Leave all our sorcery and magic junk behind, give up our adultery, our lying, stop oppressing hired workers, and oppressing widows and orphans, do not thrust aside the alien, and lastly do not fear God.

            To be sure if we are doing all those other things, then we should fear God. But, if we have cleansed our hearts of all these things, then we have nothing to fear and are able to draw close to God. If we can face all these other things, then we will have the courage to face God.

            In the newspaper this last week was a cartoon of the recently deceased George Herbert Walker Bush up in heaven before God giving his wife Barbara a happy kiss. At the State Funeral, his son George W. closed his eulogy with this same image almost but adding his dead sister to the picture: “My dad is hugging Robin and holding my mother’s hand up in heaven.”

            The courage to lead a good and righteous life today, is the courage we need to draw close to God as God wants us to be close to Him!

            This Christmas is the time when we can prepare our hearts to draw near to God once again.

 

Amen.