See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 4: 1-3)
Coming from the perspective of a 26-year-old teacher, still in the midst of questions of faith and the demonstration of such: Reading this passage from Malachi, I was struck by two contradicting ideas.
In the Advent season, we await with our calendars the coming of baby Jesus, to put it simply. Whether for children it be presents and the story of Jesus’ birth, or for more mature religious convictions, the very coming of God’s promise and salvation. During this time of expectation, I’ve always pictured (and I venture to speak for more than just myself) the innocence, beauty, and vulnerability of a tiny baby. Thus, the surprise of these verses in Malachi is that God appears abrasive and violent (to me, an at-times arrogant person). It reads as a very apocalyptic, “the end is coming” sort of thing, with days like burning ovens and evildoers reduced to ash. Albeit Malachi writes with expectation, but a different kind of expectation than I associate with Advent.
Thus, how does one unpack this burning? This leaving with neither root nor branch, foundation or connection? My personal understanding of God and the Christian story is one of complete and total grace, mercy, forgiveness and love.
Then I read the passage again, keeping in mind the context of our time. And in perfect honesty, as aggressive and morbid as it may sound, there’s a whole lot I would love to see burned up, as ash on the bottom of my foot, to put it as Malachi does so eloquently. When I consider this reading from the perspective of a person who faces oppression, like systemic racism, homophobia, sexism, abuse, unfettered greed in the face of poverty, God is clearly not taking a passive position. God is destroying oppression, arrogance, and greed. God is burning evil up.
And then Malachi inserts into this story climax the ever-so-necessary “but.” For it is in this word where the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God that we know can be found (and word-choice wise, that is itself surprising). The empowerment of God’s people, that they will come out “leaping like calves,” is illuminated by a rising “sun.” Whoever transcribed this I’m sure was tickled with the play on words. The rising sun is, of course, Jesus, the son of God, in whom we put our faith and whom we model our lives after in love.
Our God, in our expectation for your coming, let us not lose sight of the very conflicts within ourselves. Illuminate your love within us and branch it outwards to those near and far. Keep our hearts and minds open, shining light, as we eagerly await you and your son. Amen.