Advent 2 C

The mass, election, and free will! Oh my!

Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
— Malachi 3:1

Verse 1 is cited in an editor's footnote in Smalcald Articles, Section 3: Concerning Repentance (SC 3.30 n. 118) as the place to find information about the fiery angel that call us to repentance. Not particularly helpful in my opinion.

…he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.
— Malachi 3:3

Verse 3 is cited in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 24: The Mass (AP 24.34). Here Melanchthon is responding to a particular argument from the papists that cites Malachi 3:3 in an attempt to show that the the ceremony of the mass functions ex opere operato. As he writes, "the reception of the Lord's Supper itself can be a praise or thanksgiving. However, it does not justify ex opere eperato, nor should be be applied to others as if it merited the forgiveness of sins" (AP 24.33).

With this presupposition, Melanchthon then notes that Malachi 3:3 is not about the offerings of the priests making the people righteous, but instead is about God purifying the people until their offerings are given in righteousness. Melanchthon spins this in an interesting way. "For the scarifies of the sons of Levi (that is, those in the New Testament who teach) are the preaching of the gospel and the good fruits of such a preaching..." (AP 24.34, parenthetical note in original).

Philippians 1:3-11

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
— Philippians 1:6

Verse 6 is noted twice in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.32 and 11.42), always a fun topic for Lutherans. The first citation is used in conjunction with several other passages to make the argument in brief that God's work will be completed in those who remain faithful through God's grace.

This idea is more fully explained with the second citation by tuning to the Parable of the Sower. It is noted that there are those who receive faith "with joy" but then "fall away," which is not God's will, but the will of the individual. So the work that God has begun in us will not be completed if we "willfully turn [ourselves] away again from God's holy command and grieve and embitter the Holy Spirit" (SD 11.42). God wants to complete the work begun in us, therefore God promises grace.

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless…
— Philippians 1:9-10

Verses 9 thru 10 are also cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, but in Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.15), another fun Lutheran topic. The argument being made is that we need prayer—like the saints before us prayed and as Paul prays in these verses—for God's grace. The prayers of others in the Bible "have been recorded that we should, above all, thank God from the bottom of our hearts that [God] has liberated us from the darkness of our ignorance and from the prison of sin and death through [the] Son and that [God] has given us new birth and enlightened us through baptism and the Holy Spirit" (SD 2.15).


With this being the first of two John the Baptist Sunday's this cycle, there is a challenge with not rushing to the "What then should we do?" that we'll get next week. Given these texts and citations, I'm pondering these questions:

  • From what is God currently calling us to repent so that God's work in us might be completed?

  • What are we expecting to save us that is not the God who knows us in Jesus?