“4 Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees, and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.  5 See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 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 4:4-6). (30 Seconds of Silence)

          Silence.  Today, I was silent for just 30 seconds after I read the passage from Malachi.  I was silent for only 30 seconds, but that silence was beginning to feel a little awkward.  You might have asked, was there something wrong?  Did I miss something?  You might have wondered why is the pastor not speaking?  Thirty seconds of silence can seem like an eternity. We participated in that little social experiment because after God spoke through the prophet Malachi the words “or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction,” God went silent. God went silent not for 30 seconds, 30 days, or even 30 years.  God went silent for 400 years. 

For 400 years, God did not speak through a prophet, priest, king, or angel to the people of Israel.  Four hundred years was also the same amount of time Israel was enslaved in Egypt before God raised up Moses to free the Hebrew people from Egypt.

How might we think about 400 years?  Well, 400 years is the length of time between the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and today.  A lot has happened in America in the last 400 years.  Consider that our ability to relate to the people the Pilgrims of Plimouth Plantation is marked by a single event, Thanksgiving Day feasts.

For 400 years, Israel was left to mediate on God’s final words, “4 Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees, and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.”  For 400 years, Israel was called to be faithful and wait upon the timing of God. These words from Malachi closed the composition of the Hebrew Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament.

While all Israel waited, generations were born and died.  Battles were fought and wars lost.  Alexander the Great conquered the lands of Israel bringing with him a Greek language that would become known throughout the known world. The Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek causing the knowledge of God to be known everywhere.  Julius Caesar would later conquer the lands bringing with him Roman roads interconnecting the known world as well the Roman version of law and order.  The Jewish people were in the lands of Israel and now everywhere in the empire were able to worship and travel bringing with them the knowledge of God upon whom they were waiting.

And what were the Israelites waiting for?  Israel was waiting for the person they would call Messiah even though the formal name “Messiah” appeared nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures.  In the days of God’s silence and conquest by one empire after another, the Jews desired that God would anoint, would literally smear with oil, a new king for them.  A king, a ruler, visible and powerful endowed by God with special gifts and powers.  A king at whose coming would mark the end of time for all humanity.  The faithful of Israel would be exalted and enjoy the blessings of God’s anointed king.  And divine judgement, God’s judgement, would be upon the unfaithful, the pagan, and the profane. 

The Israelites believed that God’s Messiah would be born in Bethlehem but that his appearance as the Messiah would be sudden, and that all at once he would be there appearing as a victorious ruler.  From the day of his birth until he appeared, the Messiah would be hidden by God and then brought out of concealment with a suddenness. And so in the silence of God, all Israel waited, refining their concept and construct of the kingly and political Messiah.

God had indeed promised to send His anointed one to bring about God’s will for Israel and the world.  Moses had recorded God’s words concerning the anointed one.  “18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).  The anointed one would speak the Words of God.

The anointed one of God was revealed to the prophet Jeremiah this way, 31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”  A new covenant, a new commitment from God would be forthcoming and delivered through the person of God’s own choosing.

The prophet Isaiah was perhaps the most profound in sharing with Israel the coming anointed one of God.  1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.  2 He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets.  3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”  9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you” (Isaiah 42:1-4, 9).  The anointed one of God would be a servant.  Humble and obedient to the will and direction of God.  Unyielding in his desire to bring the God of hope into the lives of all.  And God would announce the arrival of His anointed one.  There would be no reason to wonder or guess whether God had acted in accordance with His plan.

          Finally, Isaiah gave a description of the anointed one of God, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  The humble servant would indeed have divine power and authority for who other than someone anointed by God could be described as counselor, God, Father, and Prince able to bring to the people a renewed sense of wonder, power, eternity, and peace.  That certainly could not come from a king or political leader soaked in the blood of his enemies.  The anointed one of God, the true Messiah that God said would come was vastly different from the Messiah envisioned by the Jews as they sat in the silence of God.

          What can we make of the story of promises and expectations of anointed one of God for our life? Let’s consider just a couple of things. First, let’s deal with the silence. Silence, when silence comes about at our direction, can be very satisfying.  Allow me to illustrate.  I love my youngest grandsons dearly.  When they visit with us for the day, it is a high impact, high noise level occasion. So, when they go home, it is nice for my wife and I to choose to have a few moments of silence just to collect your thoughts.  On the other hand, if you are anxiously waiting for the phone to ring with news that a loved one’s surgery went well, or a loved one has arrived safely to their destination and that phone remains silent against your will, then the silence is deafening and makes us anxious.  We begin to imagine all sorts of unpleasant possibilities amid the silence. From these illustrations concerning silence, we can see that what we experience is not limited to the experience. What we experience or how we experience something depends largely upon what we do with that experience.  In the illustration on silence, we can use the silence to calm ourselves or we can use it to upset ourselves.  This means that God has given us the capacity to reshape our experience by what we do with that experience.

          It was not a surprise to God that God gave all Israel a period of silence.  In preparation for that silence, God said, “4 Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees, and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel” (Malachi 4:4). It would appear that God wanted Israel to use the period of silence to draw in his words of promise and life found in the Hebrew Scriptures.  It was not God’s intention for Israel to anxious or to fill the silence with new words and new thoughts about how God would end His silence in the manner Israel came to desire, with a Messiah king, political leader, and warrior.

          I think everyone of us has experienced silence in our life with God.  Perhaps we have prayed for something specific, and God did not answer our prayer in the manner we desperately wanted.  If this is our experience, it is a profound experience. But our experience is not just what we experience.  Our experience includes what we do with our experience.  For example, we might then conclude from our experience that God is no longer speaking to us, God is silent, and so we reshape our experience by going silent ourselves with God.  Or we might, as the Israelites did, and start filling in the gaps in our experience from our fertile minds.  Either way, we are actively reshaping our experience to be more inwardly upsetting than it started out to be when our prayer seemingly went unanswered.

          What then might we do if we feel God is silent toward us?  Perhaps if we dove into God’s Word, we might see how others reshaped their experiences when faced with similar circumstances.  For example, we might read in 2 Samuel 12 that David had a son by Bathsheba.  David’s child had become gravely ill.  Scripture says, “16 David pleaded with God for the child. He [David] fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground” (2 Samuel 12:16).  But the child died.  When David learned of his son’s death, “20 David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he [David] went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he [David] went to his own house, and at his request they [David’s servants] served him [David] food, and he ate” (2 Samuel 12:20).  David reshaped his profound experience of silence from God by worshipping God and taking care of his own needs.  There is little doubt that David was hurting at the death of his son, particularly so since David’s own behavior led to the child’s death.  But David, in his grief experience, reshaped that experience by turning ever closer to the God who seemed silent toward him.

          Are you experiencing something that is having a profound effect on your life?  How are you reshaping your experience?  Is God involved in reshaping your experience?  I would encourage you to think this week about how God can and will reshape your experience.  If you are not sure how to involve God, ask a trusted Christian friend or give me a call.  You are not alone in this experience because ultimate through every experience God wants to reveal the hope that He has for each and everyone.

          It was hope itself that caused God to end His silence that began at the end of Malachi.  God promised he would announce His plan before He started it.  We read earlier today the full account of God’s first announcement since Malachi captured for us in the Gospel of Luke.

          In Luke, that first announcement from God came about in the place the Jews believed that God and earth comingled, in the Temple of Jerusalem, in the Holy of Holies.  An old man, a priest named Zechariah, was at the altar of God to refresh the steady burning of incense.  For Zechariah, to burn incense in the altar, was a once in a lifetime experience.  Luke wrote, “11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him [Zechariah], standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him [the angel], he [Zechariah] was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him [Zechariah]: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah” (Luke 1:11-13a). The angel, a messenger from God, was inviting and encouraging Zechariah to reshape his experience with a divine messenger first by letting go of his fear.  That is such an important message for us today and such an important message of the Advent season.  Let go of your fears and let God speak to you.

          The angel continued with Zechariah, “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him [your son] John. 14 He [John] will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his [John’s] birth, 15 for he [John] will be great in the sight of the Lord. He [John] is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he [John] will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is [John] born. 16 He [John] will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he [John] 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 1:14-17).  The angel confirmed to Zechariah that even though God had been silent these past 400 years, God was nevertheless attentive to prayers, including those of Zechariah.  Moreover, the angel assured Zechariah something great was about to happen through Zechariah’s son, John, for the angel repeated God’s last words from Malachi in which God promised, “5 See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.  6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” (Malachi 4:5-6). God had chosen John to come in the power of Elijah and bring joy, delight, and rejoicing because God’s salvation plan was unfolding in their time.

          What an amazing experience for Zechariah! But.  There is always a but!  But Zechariah chose to ignore the words of the angel to let go of his fear and instead chose to reshape his experience with doubt in God’s plans, timing, and God’s selection of Zechariah and his wife.  “18 Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years’” (Luke 1:18). Isn’t it amazing.  God spoke after 400 years of silence and all Zechariah can say is, “Are you sure you have the right guy?”  And so, Zechariah’s unbelief reshaped his experience of this divine announcement.

          “19 The angel said to him [Zechariah], ‘I am Gabriel!  I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you [Zechariah] and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you [Zechariah] will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time” (Luke 1:19-20).  The silence of God broken by the voice of the angel Gabriel would return because of Zechariah’s unbelief.  Unbelief silenced the good news of joy, delight, and rejoicing that was possible.  Unbelief shapes our experience in life, but never for the better.  God designed us to be in fellowship with Him and for us to know that He always hears us and desires ultimately for us to receive good news from Him.  Unbelief changes that experience.

          What then do we do with these scenes that bridge 400 years from the Old Testament to the New Testament and ends one silence and starts another?  I would like us to consider and remember this is the season of Advent.  This is the season in which we read stories about God ending His silence and bringing forth good news.  This is a season of stories of prayers answered and a season of coming joy, delight, and rejoicing in God’s salvation plan.  But here is the question.  Will we allow what God has done to reshape whatever we are experiencing this season?  Or will we be like Zechariah and turn away from God’s announcement by saying, “Are you sure this good news is for me?”  Whatever our choice this Advent, we will reshape whatever we are experiencing by how incorporate or lay aside the good news of God’s unfolding plan.  God’s plan was and is unchanged.  God’s plan is to bring us hope.  Let God’s hope reshape your life so that, “The God of hope may fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).  Amen and Amen.