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"But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming?" by Mitlon Horne

An Advent Devotion
The Canticles of Christmas
Week Two: The Magnificat

Wednesday, December 13

Malachi 2:10-3:1

"Who can endure the day of his coming?" (Malachi 2:10-3:1)

The way we frame things makes all the difference in how we understand our lives.  This applies to politics, economics, as well as biblical interpretation. Most of us will read these verses from the 5th century BCE prophet Malachi and hear only the words of chap 3:1. It asserts that a messenger is coming to prepare the way of the LORD. And, during our Advent season, we will interpret this in some way consistent with the triumphalistic story of Jesus' birth as a fulfillment of that ancient prophecy. We will not hear the words of accusation that precede our verse, nor the words of judgment that follow. In short, if this textthis whole textis to be read as a canticle of Christmas, it is a dirge and not a celebration, it calls for a eulogy, not euphoria. Think of the bass aria from Part I of Handel's Messiah: But who may abide the day of his coming?" But why the sadness?

The prophet is concerned about the purity of the community's Levitical priests, especially regarding their inter-racial marriages. He knows undoubtedly that Deuteronomy prohibits intermarriage with Canaanites. He also likely knows that Ezra, long after the codification of the Mosaic code, expands this prohibition to include other peoples, people who were contemporaries in the days of Malachi and the second temple. But the prophet also knows that Mosaic Law allows for these non-Israelites to convert to Judaism, and thus become a part of the community. Imagine that! There were people from other nations being folded into the holy people of Judah. Only priests, in a quasi-caste fashion, were prohibited from such intermarriages. What was available to all other people could not be available to the Levitical priests. Needless to say, there are no more Levitical priests in Judaism today.

But purification, no less than the policies of vetting immigrants to the United States, is not based on any absolute point of reference. Its terms shift and change with the times, the economy, the reigning political ideologies, and their ideologues, as well as the changing interpretation of prophetic words. If there is any good news in this passage, it is that history and the Creator have the final say on who may be included and excluded.

by Milton Horne

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