Following up on my earlier post about observing Advent, Malachi 4:6 calls those who would prepare for the coming of Christ to turn their hearts to their fathers, and for fathers to turn their hearts to their children. What this has to do with Christmas takes some unpacking, or unwrapping, so here goes.
The striking thing about this passage, so subtle at first that it is easily overlooked, is the bi-directional nature of the command. We’re familiar with “honor your parents” and “bring your children up in the nurture of the Lord”, and good at ignoring them in isolation. Children feel their parents have sinned horribly against them, and so God’s commands get modified (consciously or not) into “Honor your father and mother if they are honorable, when it suits you, and don’t feel bad about doing a lousy job since they’ve hardly done for you what God commanded.” For parents, the morph is similar. We respond to the command by saying, “I did my best. I put food on the table. They pushed me away. If they want to have a relationship with me, they’ll call.”
Malachi smacks us with reality. God doesn’t tell us to honor our parents if they’re honorable (or reasonable!), and he doesn’t tell parents to nurture their children when those children are willing to listen, young, cute or asleep. When John the Baptizer came preaching in the spirit of Elijah, he didn’t gathered around a congregation of kids, but made the way straight “that all might believe through him” (John 1:7). Jews, priests, Levites, all were called to repentance. His first line in Matthew’s Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2). This is not a repentance depending on someone else’s. This is not turn your heart to your father when he owns something you’d like him to, or love your kid when they’re lovable. Malachi echoes the 5th commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12), but he applies it to the time when Jesus would come. He includes the hearts of fathers to children, and not just children to fathers. And he adds the consequences of refusing, “lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
What does a beefed up version of the 5th Commandment have to do with the coming of Christ? More than we might think. God prepares us for the coming of his Son by telling us to get right with our own children. He tells us to prepare our hearts to love the Father who gives life to the Son by turning our hearts to our fathers who gave us life. We fail to see these connections because we think it’s easy to run if you never walk, which is a lie: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:20). How much more is this true if anyone hates his father? Or if anyone anyone hates his son? He cannot love the Father or the Son. This is not said to throw your faith into a tailspin. In his juxtaposing brilliance, John tells us that one must drive the other out. If you love Father, love your father. If you love the Son, love your son. If you are a Christian who believes Jesus is God, this is where you are going anyway, so you might as well come along and have a merry Christmas. (more…)