As the sun peaks through, we don our work clothes and walk to the barn. Beneath my black boots the grass is wet from the rains that fell during the night. A chorus of birds breaks the silence and awakens me. The air smells of spring – the mix of freshly dampened dirt, compost and grass – inviting me to treasure the renewed life breaking forth all around me. Spring. It’s been long-awaited this year. The desolation seemed to crawl into weeks of unwelcome. But, on this blessed morning they are but a memory.
In the Bible there’s a little book that closes the Old Testament. By this time the Israelites had returned from exile and some hundred years had passed since the Babylonian Captivity had ended. Both Haggai and Zechariah had prophesied that the rebuilding of the temple would bring prosperity and peace, and the return of God’s glorious presence. However, the temple work had been going on for about eighty years, and the Israelites found themselves in ruin. The desolation crawled into weeks of unwelcome hurling themselves into years of anguish. They had lost their independence and were no longer ruled by a Davidic King. Brokenness was all around them with droughts and failing crops. But all of this was insignificant compared to their ache for God’s presence. Haggai and Zechariah’s prophecies must have left an empty void in their hearts as they longed for the return of their God.
Malachi is a book that reveals just how far the Israelites' hearts had strayed. Six times Malachi raises issue with the way the Israelites are living. Six times Malachi confronts the people. And six times the desolation that is coming due to this poor behavior is announced. After bold assertions regarding unbelievers, a glimmer of hope is announced, and Malachi tells the people that there is a day coming when the wrong of the world will be made right.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” (Malachi 4:1)
Through the heaviness of the air, God breathes hope.:
“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”
During the winter months here in Minnesota we keep our herd of cows close to the barn. On the coldest of nights, we lock them in the barn. As they huddle together their heat warms the space. As the days and weeks go by, their stalls beg to be cleaned. The hay that was fresh and green last summer loses its appeal and begins to smell of dust rather than the grassy aromas of summer. Reluctantly the cows munch the hay their appetites satiated with the tired grasses. Everything longs for the rebirth of the world.
One of my favorite moments in spring is when we open the pens of the cows. These huge animals gingerly step out of the fences that have held them in for months. They taste the fresh new grass. They take a few more steps. And, then they begin leaping! Even the bull with his sturdy frame and great girth enjoys the dance. Unencumbered – finally – the animals surge forward and a flood of joy covers the pasture as they taste the richness.
The Israelites were awaiting this day. For four hundred years, our God was silent. Then, quietly, softly, He stepped into our world in a whole new way. After 30 years of living a perfect life, He died the death of a thief, a murdered. But the story doesn’t end there. He rose again and now is preparing a place for us. A place where just like the cows we will leap for joy. In this place the desolation that becomes weeks of unwelcome will end. No longer constricted by the aches and pains of this world. No longer stifled by the evil that is so present among us. No longer broken... God’s creation will be rebirthed. This day is coming for us when unencumbered – finally – we will step into a new space and a flood of joy will cover that which is before us. And all that we are and all that we have will bow before the Lord and bring Him glory and honor and praise. And, oh! How we will leap for joy!