A Catalogue of Promise – Br. James Koester

Malachi 4: 1 – 2a
Psalm 982
Thessalonians 3: 6 – 13
Luke 21: 5 -19

Before coming to the community, now just over thirty years ago, I was rector of a small parish on the west coast of British Columbia. The Parish of Salt Spring Island, was, as its name suggests, on an island between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The rectory was just perfect for me; a small two bedroom house built in the 1920’s or so. It was situated at the head of the harbour, facing southeast.

I had two favourite rooms in the house. One was the living room that had a fireplace and newly refinished hardwood floors. Shortly after I moved in, I came downstairs for my coffee one morning, and stood breathless as I looked into the living room. The sun was just coming up, and the living room glowed. It reminded me of one of my favourite prayers.

Gracious God, your love unites heaven and earth in a new festival of gladness. Lift our spirits to learn the way of joy that leads us to your banquet hall, where all is golden with praise. We ask this through Jesus Christ the Lord.[1]

That morning watching the sun come up in my living room, I had a vision of that banquet hall where all is golden with praise. I loved my little house from that instant.

The other room I loved was my study. It was also on the front of the house, facing the harbour. I would often sit in my chair, at the beginning or end of the day, praying Morning or Evening Prayer, looking down the harbour. The other feature of the study that I loved, was a complete wall of built in bookshelves. As you might imagine, I was in heaven. For the first time I had enough space for all my books, in one place.

One of the jobs that gave me tremendous delight, when I first moved into the rectory, was to shelve my books in some kind of order. I spent hours getting my library established, just so.

As any librarian will tell you, cataloging and shelving books is no random act. Sure I could have shelved them according to colour: all the yellow books here, all the red books there, or by height, that tallest ones down there, and the shortest ones over there, or even alphabetically with the A’s up there, and so on. But I would never have found anything. So my all novels went on these shelves, and my history over there, and my prayer books here. It took a lot of thought, but when I was finished, I could find what I wanted fairly easily. As they say, there was method to my madness.[2]

I think that it is helpful to think of the Bible, not as a book, but a library, because it is not a single book, but a collection of books. Somewhere along the line, a librarian got their hands on these books, and came up with a system of cataloging them, so that we can find what we’re looking for. Now they could have done it by size, with the longest books at the front, and the shortest books at the end, but then we would never be able to find anything. So the history is here, the gospels there, the literature and prophets in the middle, with the epistles towards the end.

And then there are subsections, such as with Paul’s general epistles, RomansCorinthians, etc., followed by his letters to specific people, TimothyTitus, and so on.

The order of this particular library, which we all the Bible, is not random.

And that’s my point.

And that is why the book of the prophet Malachi, in what we Christians call the Old Testament, is the very last book in that part of our biblical library. And it is that way for a purpose. Listen again, for a moment.

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.[3]

It is no accident that in the very last book of the Old Testament we read about the sun of righteousness arising, and the return of the prophet Elijah. It is no accident, because if you turn the page to the next book, what will you read?

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…[4]

(Now, as an aside, I know that some Bibles place the books of the Apocrypha between Malachi and Matthew. When that happens, they function as an appendix to what has gone before, and not an interruption in our carefully chosen sequence.)

So today the lectionary is setting the stage by choosing something from the very last chapter, of the very last book, in what we call the Old Testament

In just a week, the curtain will come down on this act, as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, only to rise on the next, or first act, as the drama begins again. In that act, the next one, or perhaps the first one, we look forward once more to the coming, not of a king in majesty, but a king in lowliness, with the birth of our infant Saviour, in the person of Jesus, the true sun of righteousness, who comes to us with healing in his wings. And in John the Baptist, the turner of hearts, we will hear echoes of Elijah.

As Christians it is important for us to be aware that the way in which we have catalogued our library of sacred texts is not an accident or by happenstance. It is on purpose. By doing it the way we have done, we are declaring, not only our expectation of the coming of the Saviour, but our proclamation that the Saviour has come, in the person of Jesus Christ. But not only that. We say that we are expecting him to come again, for we read in the very last words, of the very last book in our library, The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.[5]

From the very first [in] the beginning[6] of Genesis, to the very last Come, Lord Jesus, of Revelation, our library of sacred texts is ordered so as to invite people into faith, not simply in God, but in Jesus, the sun of righteousness who comes with healing in his wings.

Just as there are other ways to catalogue libraries, there are other ways to catalogue sacred texts. Our cousins the Jews, with whom we share so many texts, have a different system of cataloging. The last book in their system, is not the prophet Malachi, with his anticipation of the coming of the sun of righteousness and the return of Elijah. Our cousins end with Chronicles, one of the histories which tells of the return of God’s exiled people, to the holy city, Jerusalem.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: ‘Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.’[7]

For the Jew, the ultimate invitation of Scripture is a return from exile, to the land of promise, and to Jerusalem, the city of the great king.[8]

Today, not only is our text from Malachi alerting us into something, but so by its placement in our library of sacred texts, is it inviting us to something. In his prophecy, Malachi is alerting us to the coming of the sun of righteousness. By placing this prophecy of Malachi’s next to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, who is called the Messiah,[9] our librarian is inviting us into faith. 

It is no accident then that Malachi, by word and placement, alert and invite us to faith in Jesus Christ, who comes to us, not only as the sun of righteousness, but also as the messiah, who will save his people of their sins.[10]

The curtain is about to come down on this particular act in our drama, only to rise again for the next act. Today we have been promised that God will act, and send to us one who comes with healing, wholeness, and salvation. And tomorrow we will see that promise fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of God.

[1] Anglican Church of Canada, Book of Alternative Services, 1985, page 763

[2] Shakespeare, William, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, though this be madness, there’s method to’t

[3] Malachi 4: 1 – 6

[4] Matthew 1: 1 – 2

[5] Revelation 22: 20

[6] Genesis 1: 1

[7] II Chronicles 36: 22 – 23

[8] Psalm 48: 2; Matthew 5:35

[9] Matthew 1: 16

[10] Matthew 1: 21

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