In Malachi 4:1-6, God told the people of Jerusalem that they would be visited. The nation had been brought back from captivity in Babylon/Persia, had rebuilt the temple, and had (in a short time) returned to their old ways. They were showing partiality in judgment and oppressing the widows, orphans, and strangers in their community (2:9; 3:5). They were giving honor to the bad people rather than their faithful God (1:6; 2:17; 3:15). They were violating their covenant with God (2:5,10,11). In fact it is possible that God was the wife of their youth and they were worshipping the female goddess Asherah (2:11,14). God did not want to divorce them but they were leaving little choice.
So God planned to visit them. For the wicked it would be a day of burning judgment (4:1). For the ones who loved God, it would be a day of joy (4:2). They would be like calves let out of the pen and as those who crush the wicked under their feet (4:3). God was coming into the world to bring justice, victory, and peace.
400 years of silence until Jesus came to once again free the captives and defend the oppressed (Luke 4:16-19). Mary, the simple servant, the young child, and the one favored by God was told that her son would be great. She was told that Jesus would have an everlasting kingdom. She was told that this would happen by the power of the Spirit and the overshadowing (visiting) by the power of the Most High God (Luke 1:32-35). The coming of God would bring justice to the oppressed and freedom to the captives. It would also bring judgment on those who spend their lives and energy at the expense of people.
Christmas caroling, bonuses, and wassailing. These were popular methods, during the days of the Puritans, for the poor to have advantage over the rich. As far back as the festival of Saturn (called the Saturnalia in the 3rd century AD) the rich served the poor and the masters served the slaves. Gifts were given to the oppressed and the week of December 25 was a time of equalizing all people. In the colonial days caroling was a form of harassment, by the poor. Our song: “Now bring us a figgy pudding and bring it out now! We won’t go until we get some…” are remnants of this archaic form of harassment. Bonuses are given to employees as a sign of good cheer. In colonial days you gave a bonus to make sure that the little guy didn’t hurt you doing the year. Now we know why Scrooge hated Christmas so much! But the little guy just wanted to be loved, noticed, and honored.
I forget sometimes how deep these traditions run in our practices. We give, we bless, we serve, and we remember during this time of year. While the history of the traditions may be in blackmailing people or harassment—we know that giving and serving are good things to teach our children. So it is with the coming of the Messiah. Jesus came, not only to save us, but also to bring justice. This time of year is not only a time to give, but also a time to reflect. It is a time to remember the poor and continue to remember the poor throughout our lives. Jesus came to bring justice in a land that had forgotten to take it to heart. So this season, we remember that Jesus came to lift up and empower the oppressed, the afflicted, the weak, and the sinner. Those among us who struggle with depression this time of year over the loss of a spouse or loved one, distance from family, divorce, or loss of a job need love, mercy, and justice. Those among us who are without, who feel imprisoned from sin, or who don’t want to face the future need hope that the coming of Jesus brings. Yet—it begins with us. God came to people as a merciful judge. God did not come to condemn but to empower people to love God and our neighbor. Jesus came to turn our hearts to each other and become a community of peace and justice.