The concluding Sundays of the Church’s liturgical year call us to watchfulness, a kind of spiritual health check. Our faith, like life itself, easily loses focus. Convictions, once so firm, can be undermined by the compromises that creep unnoticed into our lives. Disappointments, both with ourselves and those to whom we look for inspiration, can blunt the urgency of our hope in God. These final Sundays before Advent challenge us to return to the foundations of our faith in Christ, and to recognise where Christ’s promises are leading us.
The prophet Malachi faced a similar situation in the fifth century before Christ. Jerusalem had lived through the heady days of restoration and the rebuilding of the Temple. The shame and humiliation of exile had become a distant memory. It must have seemed that a new age had dawned for Israel and her ancient faith. The superficiality of this new beginning rapidly became apparent. This reinvigorated faith was soon undermined by an unequal scramble for prosperity. The moral values at the heart of Israel’s society were readily compromised. Even the religious leaders, to whom the safeguarding of these sacred values had been entrusted, were not without fault. It was hardly surprising that the faithful band surrounding the prophet Malachi began to lose heart.
Disillusionment, both with religion and economic promise, is a temptation that faces today’s society. The prophet Malachi responded by summoning the faithful remnant to stand firm in changing times. The God of Israel had not abandoned the promise to be with his people. The day of the Lord would come, burning like a furnace, that would reveal the integrity of his faithful. We are called to a similar trust, to hold fast to Christ whose presence in our world, though widely disregarded, shall be revealed.
Jesus prepared his disciples for difficult times. In pointing to the magnificence of the Temple that would so soon be destroyed, he warned them against the superficial distractions that can so easily dominate our lives. Only a faith rooted in Christ himself is assured in changing times. In graphic terms he spoke of catastrophes, the civil unrest and family breakdowns, that would threaten to undermine their faith. The only assurance that he gave them was that he would be with them. When they stood before the world, their belief apparently discredited, they were not to prepare any defence.
“Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict.”
These words invite us, as the year draws to its end, to discover afresh the grounds for our hope.
It is inevitable that our lives will be deeply affected as our economy gears up for savage cuts. These will undoubtedly threaten not only our prosperity, but also our family and social relationships.
In similar circumstances the prophet Malachi summoned the faithful to God’s unchanging fidelity. Jesus assured his disciples: “Not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.”
Adversity, whatever form it takes, is like Malachi’s burning furnace. When we approach it in faith it burns the arrogance from our hearts. It allows Christ, the sun of righteousness, to be revealed in our lives.