The Book of Malachi is the last book of the Hebrew Testament. Today’s passage is the penultimate verse of the last chapter of the last book of the Hebrew Testament. It is a profound prophecy, promising the return of Elijah, who had been taken up in a whirlwind, according to 2 Kings 2:11. Malachi foretells Elijah’s return here before the “terrible day of the Lord comes.”
In the Jewish tradition this is interpreted literally. For Christians, the gospels see Elijah in the person of John the Baptist. “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come.” (Matthew 11:14) Again, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things, but I tell you that Elijah has already come, but they did not recognize him and they did to him whatever they pleased, so also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” (Mt. 17:11-12) And again, “But I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased, as is written of him.” (Mark 9:9-13)
John, indeed, was the voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord. He drew great numbers of people out into the desert preaching a word of repentance and baptising those who repented with water. What he was doing then is still relevant to us today. We, too, are being challenged by that voice in the wilderness, for we are caught up in a Vanity Fair of tempting delights, bright lights, and noise. Our attentions are constantly being drawn away from real beauty, that is, beauty that comes from God. Music has become more like noise. Art has become soulless, without meaning. The classical beauties in art and music are mocked openly. Sensuality has replaced the beauty of real love. John the Baptist, Elijah, is that voice crying out in the wilderness. He is calling us now, in this Advent season, and we are challenged once again to heed his voice, and to prepare ourselves, to repent, “before that great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”
C.S. Lewis, in his wonderful little book, Screwtape Letters, has the fictional senior devil, Screwtape, counseling his apprentice devil, Wormwood to never let his “patient” be caught up in moments of beauty, like music or silence, for these things are of God who is, from the distorted and perverse perspective of hell, “the Enemy.” Screwtape says, “Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that from the time our Father (Satan) entered Hell…that no square inch of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise…” C.S. Lewis, in this incredible book gives us a frighteningly realistic sense of the world as a battleground between good and evil. We are being harassed constantly by noise. It is hard for us to hear that voice crying out in the desert because we find so little time for real beauty, real music and silence. Everything in the world militates against us. Especially at this time of the year. Christmas has become a gaudy, noisy appeal to crass materialism. Christ is almost completely missing from the season for the great majority of people. It has become all about “getting and spending.” Very little time is given to the real meaning of Christmas, that is, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and what that means for the fallen world, for us, personally. We are challenged to remember that though we are in the world, we are not to be of it. We have a higher calling.
Lord, open our ears to hear the voice crying out in the wilderness. Give us the strength to turn away from all the noise and glitter that surrounds us, and all that calls us away from you. Draw our hearts to your music of love and forgiveness, and into that silence where your voice speaks to our hearts in gentle whispers and fills us with your joy. We pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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