GREAT AND TERRIBLE

Malachi 4:1–6

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.

Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

Great and Terrible

This is hardly the “oven” we want to hear about this time of year. Instead of being filled with cookies or a roast, it’s filled with the arrogant and evildoers. The image becomes even more striking, as those who fear the Lord are seen as runaway calves skipping and stomping on the ashes of the wicked.

But nestled within this vivd imagery of wildfire and livestock is the very heart of the prophets: “Remember the teaching of my servant Moses.” The message of the prophets brings the past into the present in order to heal and hope for the future. They continually call for the return and renewal of the covenant that God created when he called Israel out of Egypt. The exodus founded a community of freedom and forgiveness, and the greatly anticipated Day of the Lord is always seen as a final fulfillment of this community.

Malachi specifically envisions the reconciliation of families, an image that might be tender to us during this season. Over the coming weeks., all the holiday gathering and gifting may remind us of hurts and absences.

It is indeed “great and terrible” to seek reconciliation, to see the walls that separate us go up in flames. It is risky and humbling to reach out and restore broken relationships. Grudges build cramped stalls. God frees us through forgiveness. This season is a time for reconciliation—not out of sentimentality, but because the arrival of God means that his forgiveness and freedom are here.

by Rev. Nick Chambers