the shape of leadership

The Lord Is Gracious

The songs of Christmas, Part 3

George P Wood on December 19, 2017


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 1:13-17


In Luke’s account of Christ’s birth, silence precedes singing. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home was silent because they were childless. Zechariah’s mouth became silent because he doubted the angel’s good news. And Israel’s prophets were silent too.

Malachi is the last prophet of the Old Testament. He ministered in the fifth century B.C. Speaking on behalf of God, Malachi’s final words are these: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6).

In this prophecy, Malachi promises three things: righteousness, revelation and reconciliation. The day of the Lord is the day on which God right-sizes the world. It is currently under the grip of the Axis of Evil (sin, death and the devil). So it is awash in unrighteousness. What should be isn’t, and what shouldn’t be is. But on the day of the Lord, God will make all things right.

A prophet’s ministry has to do with revelation. He sees a vision of God, or hears the Word of God, and communicates it to the people so that the people might hear and obey God’s will.

God is gracious — to the childless, to the doubting and to us.

Elijah was a great prophet in an age of great prophecies, and Malachi promises a fresh outpouring of divine revelation as the day of the Lord draws near.

But neither God’s actions nor prophetic revelation alone determine what happens to you and me as the day of the Lord draws near. We are given a choice: reconciliation with one another and with God, or a curse. What must happen in us is a turn of our hearts.

After Malachi spoke these words, prophecy in Israel went silent for over 400 years. And then, the angel Gabriel spoke good news to childless Zechariah. He would have a son, but not just any son. In the Old Testament, the prophets were filled with the Holy Spirit on occasion, at the moment of divine revelation.

But Zechariah’s son “will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born” (Luke 1:15).

And this son’s ministry will be a ministry of turning: “He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17).

After Malachi, silence. Beginning with Zechariah’s son, a new voice. And that son’s name encapsulates his message: John (Luke 1:13). In Hebrew, his name is Yohanan. In English, it means “the Lord is gracious.” And God is. To the childless, to the doubting, and to us.


See also:

The Songs of Christmas, Part 1
The Songs of Christmas, Part 2

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