Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11, and Luke 3:1-6

 “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.”  

 Now of course, those words come from Scripture, but they are more than just words of Scripture.  They are part and parcel of the celebration of Christmas, even from secular perspective.  We see them on greeting cards, in Christmas lights on the neighbor’s yard, and so on.  And we certainly love the sound of them.  We long for peace and goodwill.

 But will our world ever know peace?  It certainly seems unlikely.  

 The 20th century was called the century of total war.  We had two global conflicts that engulfed hundreds of millions of people, resulting in the deaths of over 100 million.  The United States also saw conflict in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.  And even when there wasn’t conflict, there was the Cold War, the looming threat of global annihilation.

 As the century drew to a close, there seemed to be hope.  The Soviet Union collapsed, and the Cold War ended.  For a brief moment, there seemed to be hope of a new era of peace on earth.  But it didn’t last.  Ethnic conflicts erupted in Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Chechnya, and other places.  Conflict between Israel and its neighbors continued.  September 11th led to a new era of conflict with terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’ve seen a resurgence of Russia in its involvement in the Ukraine and Syria.  And now we have new threats like ISIS and the possibility of a nuclear Iran.  

 At home, we see more conflict:  mass shootings, civil unrest, racial tensions.  Peace seems like nothing more than a wishful dream.  

 What is peace?  The biblical concept of peace comes from the Hebrew word SHALOM.  Shalom meant more than just the absence of conflict.  It was a greeting and a blessing.  It meant wholeness, well-being in every part of life.  It meant peace with God, good relationships with one’s fellow human beings, a right place in the world, and sense of peace within oneself.  It’s not something that could come about just because of a cease fire agreement.  As Christians, we believe peace will not truly come about until Christ comes again to bring peace.

 The prophet Malachi is the last word of the Old Testament.  After him, prophecy ended for 400 years.  And the last word was that God himself was going to come.  

 Before God came, a messenger would precede him.  This was typical of ancient Near East culture.  Once a year, usually in the springtime, a king would go out to tour part of his kingdom.  And before he went, messengers would go out, to spread the news he was on his

way, and to tell everyone to make ready for his arrival.  We know that messenger to be John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

 Malachi asks, “But who can stand when he comes?”  People might be happy to think about God coming, but only happy to think about receiving the blessings he would bring.  What about the judgment?

 Malachi says that God is like a launderer’s soap.  He will purify the faithful.  

 And he will be like a refiner of silver.  Silver came from an ore called galena, which was less than 1% silver.  That meant that to get something of value, you had to remove a lot of worthless material.  So while the faithful will be purified at the coming of God, the faithless will be removed.  Suddenly the picture of God coming is not so comforting!  There is no peace without justice and there is no justice without judgment.  We can’t have peace with God until we are refined.

 John the Baptist received the Word of God, and the Word was repent.  The outward sign of one’s repentance was to be baptized, to show one’s desire to die to sin and to begin life anew as a child of God.  

 The words for repent in the Bible are SHUV in Hebrew and METANOEO in Greek.  Both have the same basic meaning:  To turn around, to change one’s mind, to return to someone or something.  To repent is to turn away from sin and turn to God.

Both parts are necessary.  If we try to turn from sin without also turning to God, we end up with an empty morality.  We try to do what is right, but we have no moral compass, no standard by which to understand right and wrong.  And if we turn to God without also turning from sin, then we end up living a lie.  We can’t turn to God without also becoming like God in our character.

But if we repent and turn from sin and turn to God, then he is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us.  We will be laundered, to use Malachi’s image, rather than removed like the “dross,” the parts of the ore that lacked value.

In Philippians, verse 6, we are told that God who began a good work in you will continue it until Christ returns.  The process of turning from sin and turning to God is a long and difficult one.  But we are encouraged in verse 9 to keep growing in our love and understanding so that we can live pure and blameless lives until Christ returns.  We cannot finish the process of turning from sin and turning to God unless we truly know God.  And unless we put the love of God into practice in our lives.  Only then are we ready to receive the God of peace.     

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