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.
Christmas reveals our ongoing need for repentance, faith and restoration. This is what God the Father does for us. He declares over us in Christ: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Christmas is the end of father-hunger, and the end orphan-making. What is worse than being an orphan or having fathered an orphan? Being in a parent-child relationship full of bitterness.
Children (of all ages), turn your hearts to your parents, and particularly your father since he is typically the problem! Even the best fathers are dim reflections of God the Father, and it’s your heavenly Father who tells you to honor your earthly one. Has he wronged you? Forgive him from the heart, and pray he would seek your forgiveness, not so you can rub it in, but because you want his blessing and fellowship. If your heart is cold to your mother, of course do the same. This does not mean you are to be naive and think you will never be hurt again, but rather it sets you on a path to forgive and heal. Right now you are hurt, and contrary to the defenses you think you have built, you are making sure that your wound festers, spreads and eventually rears its ugly head (Heb. 12:15).
Fathers, turn your hearts to your children. They need a dad who loves in word and deed, and not a sugar daddy who simply fills the Christmas tree with presents. Like Jesus, they need to hear you are well pleased with them. If they are young, they need a fun-filled Christmas that includes lots of time together. Christmas is the time when the eternal God took on flesh and became a man. We shouldn’t shy away from presents, parties, lights, seasonal ale, and fudge, but we should make we are giving all of this along with ourselves to our children (more or less ale, age depending). Enjoy it together. If your kids are older, they need your friendship, advice, and support.
God blesses obedience. We always run cost-benefit scenarios without this in mind. “If I turn my heart to my dad/mom/son/daughter, they will simply continue to x/y/z and walk all over me.” Leaving that aside, what will God do? Will he take your cause up? Will he use you to change them? Will he use it to change you more? Did this ever work for Jesus? Everyone wants to give at least as much if not more to their kids than their parents gave to them. But we often want it on our terms. In God’s economy, everything is related, for better or worse. Malachi tells us to prepare for the Lord, to turn our hearts to him, by dealing with these relationships. Turning to him begins the a snowball of grace that works its way into an avalanche. Turn to your Father, to your father, and to your children, and pretty soon you are ready for Christmas.