You know: when most people get ready to write a little something for the Christmas season, they fire up the Yule log, and they have a little eggnog, and toss a little tinsel, and eat a cookie, and then they have this sweet smell on their breath as they talk about how joyful a season this is.
I’m going to try something different this year, and I hope you’re ready to come with me. We’re going to start in Malachi:
Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear 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 law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” [ESV]
Those are the last words from the Old Testament – the last part of the book of Malachi, and the last words God spoke to the nation Israel for 400 years. It doesn’t sound like God was getting ready to make any cookies to me – it sounds like God is spelling it out for Israel:
My wrath is coming.
“The day that is coming shall set them ablaze.” That’s not very holly-jolly, is it? I mean – what kind of person can have Christmas when what God’s last words before a 400-year silence prior to Christ’s birth say explicitly that He’s getting ready to burn evildoers up like what’s left over after a harvest?
“It will leave them neither root nor branch.” See: He’s not saying, “I’m going to purify you with fire,” but “I’m going to make sure there’s nothing left of you by means of fire.” “You” who are arrogant and do evil; “you” who are not my treasured possessions; “you” who are not my sons who serve me; “you” who are wicked and do not serve God. There’s a fire coming for you, and it’s going to leave nothing behind.
That’s a little dark, isn’t it? I mean – this is God saying He’s going to take evil out for good is a way that isn’t like taking the kinks out of a stiff neck, but in a way like Chemotherapy. He’s going to burn evildoers up. How is that a preparation for Christmas?
Seriously: this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, isn’t it? We have partitioned it off, and we have made a lot of happy elves and angels and smiley snowmen, and of course the jolly Fat Man, and we have a lot of songs which everyone sings about this time of year. And we have white snow and sweet candy and the smell of pine or fur or holly in our homes, and heaps of presents – who doesn’t like presents, even if it’s just a fruit cake from a friend from college we haven’t seen in 20 years? We have made this time of year completely insulated from who we are the rest of the year. God doesn’t do that.
Before God in the Bible tells us about Christmas – about premier noël, the first time there was a day in history we could talk about the person of Christ – God says, “Listen to me: my wrath is on-tap. And it’s not like a fire hose on a dirty street: it’s like a forest fire that burns everything to the dirt. It’s like an atom bomb. If you are caught in it, there’s nothing you can do but be swallowed up. Either your hearts are going to be turned to me, or else I am going to decree utter destruction.” That is, “I haven’t forgotten who you are, kids. And I haven’t forgotten what I have promised to do. But I haven’t forgotten who I am.”
Christmas is coming, but the way the Bible tells it, maybe we ought to have a little bit more concern about who this child in the manger is – because if he’s related to this God in Malachi, the rest of us are in pretty dire straights.