Advent Devotional | Day 25: Jesus and Elijah, the Prophet
Jesus e Elias, o Profeta
See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.
– Malachi 4:5
Advent is a season of renewed hope, but the seemingly insoluble problems of life in Brazil can make us forget its true meaning. Is hope mere optimism that the future will go according to our own plan? Is it a good feeling that numbs us to the present needs of the world? How can the Christmas message teach us about true hope, especially in a context where corruption—and all the social issues resulting from it—abounds?
Malachi speaks to a context where hope had almost vanished. Despite recent efforts to rebuild Jerusalem, those who returned from Babylon were caught in the crossfire between global empires. The Davidic throne had not been reestablished (Malachi 3:6-12), and the priests compromised the purity of the altar (Malachi 1:6-13). As a result, it became commonplace among the people to practice social injustice, unwarranted divorce, adultery, and even sorcery (Malachi 2:13-16; 3:5).
Malachi spoke true hope to that reality. Grounded in Yahweh’s unchanging character (Malachi 3:6), hope assured that the same God who had called Abraham, made a covenant with Israel, and appointed David as king would fulfill His plan of a new creation. Circumstances may suggest otherwise (Malachi 3:15), but the Lord would surely bring about final restoration—a reality which would be materialized in Yahweh’s return to His house (Malachi 3:1).
True hope, however, includes the anticipation of God’s perfect justice. If the return of Yahweh’s glory would represent redemption to some (Malachi 4:2), the “terrible day of the Lord” would also be like a purging fire to many others: the wicked would have their share (Malachi 4:1, 5), and even the priests would face God’s scrutiny (Malachi 3:2-4). Instead of turning a blind eye to the calamities surrounding him, then, Malachi summons his contemporaries to action: because God would indwell his sanctuary once again, the people should live according to His righteousness (Malachi 3:18). Hope is renewed only in the context of repentance (Malachi 3:7).
So Malachi announces the coming of a messenger who would warn the people about such a climactic moment. A beacon of true hope, Yahweh’s herald would prepare the way of the Lord (Malachi 3:1) by calling the chosen nation to remember the law (Malachi 4:4). This is the whole point of Malachi 4:5-6: just like Elijah summoned his own generation to obey the Lord’s ancient covenant (cf. 1 Kings 18), the end-time prophet would “turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents” (Malachi 4:6a). To take heed of this message is the only way to avoid the cursing of the land (Malachi 4:6b).
Indeed, it is in these terms that the Gospels speak of John the Baptist and the significance of Jesus’s coming. As Malachi’s herald (Luke 1:16-17), John prepares the way of the Lord by calling the people back to the ways of divine righteousness (Mark 1:1-6). As the one who baptizes believers with the very presence of God (Mark 1:7-8), Jesus brings final redemption to His people (Matthew 4:23), the culmination of Yahweh’s saving purposes. Accordingly, the coming of Jesus calls us not only to celebrate but also to repent: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).
As we prepare for Christmas, Malachi 4:5-6 calls us to renew our hope according to the Lord’s unfailing—even if slow—justice. Brazilian Christians are famous for remaining hopeful regardless of our everyday hardships. But we need to remember that hope is not a mere sentiment nurtured by some sort of religious entertainment. Hope stems from an incorruptible conviction. Far from sentimentalizing the brokenness of the world, true hope leads us to align ourselves with God’s agenda, living righteous lives and pursuing justice for those around us. The same Jesus who visited the temple in the first century will come back to fix all things and reign forever over a resurrected world. We anticipate that glorious day by living in the light of it, with repentance resulting in concrete righteousness and trust.
Dr Bernardo Cho
São Paulo, Brazil
Dr Bernardo Cho (PhD, University of Edinburgh) teaches the New Testament and Biblical Theology at Seminário Teológico Servo de Cristo (São Paulo, Brazil), where he also directs the DMin Program. In addition, he serves as founding pastor at Igreja Presbiteriana do Caminho.