St. Luke 1.vv.67-79

~ Then John's Father Zechariah was filled with the Holy spirit and spoke this prophecy: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High: for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." ~

Nowadays so many of our friends and family die heavily drugged to relieve terminal pain that we seldom know or hear their last words to those around them; but in years gone by much was made of the "last words" of the dying. Occasionally last words were words of reproach or bitterness, but much more often of repentance, forgiveness, hope, reconciliation, confession, pardon, love. Every Passiontide we rehearse and treasure the "last words" from the Cross.

I wonder, however, how many people know the last word or words of the Old Testament. The little book Malachi ("My messenger") closes the Old Testament with the word "curse"! "Lest I come and smite the land with a curse"! What a sobering, sombre thought!

Before we answer the question, "Did it happen?", we must ask why the book ends on such a note. The answer is that the prophet Malachi was concerned, as we are, with thoughts of judgement. His people had returned from Exile but the joy and expectancy of their new found freedom had evaporated. Complacency and cynicism were rife, religion was corrupt and stale, the days were spiritually dark, sin abounded, their "robes were soiled" - and yet the hope of a Messiah, a Saviour, the Christ, was still lively in the minds of God's people. But how would the Messiah react to the people to whom he was to come? How would God visit his people - with love or wrath, with blessing or a curse?

Malachi declared that God does not desire his people's hurt. A messenger will be sent to admonish and reform God's people before the "Day of the Lord", his visitation so often predicted in the Old Testament.

Four and a half centuries later the prophecies of Malachi were fulfilled. John the Baptist (a "second Elijah") came to recall God's people to obedience, to purify them as with fire and to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah (the Christ).

Handel in his great Oratorio describes the coming of the Christ and the Good News (Gospel) that broke upon the world as the Word became Flesh, the Son of God came to his world.

As we compare and contrast the conditions of Malachi's days and our own, the similarities become very striking. Despite 2,000 years of Christian witness there is still apathy rife in the world, there is still sin and suffering, there is still the need of a loving Saviour to lift mankind to God. There is still a deep felt longing for pardon and peace, for love and compassion, for the blessings that we do not deserve, but in God's tender mercy and by his free gift of grace we accept, as we accept the Christ child into our lives this Christmas time.

Malachi foretold the possibility that the Lord might visit his people with a curse but the Angels' song was "Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people".

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