We praise you in your sanctuary;
we praise you in your mighty firmament!
(adapted from Psalm 150:1)
This passage from Malachi is usually dated to the Persian period. The people have known exile, have felt that they had been forgotten by God, and are looking toward a word from God. Christians read this passage in Malachi as a foretelling of the coming of Christ.
Consider the promises made about the messenger: The one you want is coming. But, who will be able to stand it? He will refine and purify the descendants of Levi (us, too?)
After the fire that refines and purifies, the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be as pleasing as it once was. (How does this promise relate to our situation? Should we translate the refinement as something that happens after death? Or, should we go ahead and repent immediately?)
Allen & Williamson in their Preaching the Old Testament see "the refiner's fire" to be a simile for the transformative love of God:
We are so accustomed to speaking of God's justifying, forgiving, and redeeming grace that we sometimes forget the basic point that God has a purpose in all that God does, and the purpose is that all people should have life and well-being (2:5). Yet clearly they cannot as long as we insist on and persist in living in ways that lead to death and curse. God's love is freely given to each and all, but it is a love that gives and calls us to become people who love God with all our selves and our neighbors as ourselves and to act accordingly in relation to our neighbors.At the time of exile, they could look back and contemplate whether they really had spent much effort on caring for widows and orphans, or being honest in business, and worrying about the welfare of the stranger. And at the time of Jesus, they also could also review whether they had followed those commands of the Lord or whether they had focused more on their own welfare. And, of course, here we are, with the same opportunities and temptations.
"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life," chapter 22 begins.
The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb--that's the source. And it flows right through the middle of the street of the city. What begins with God sustains the world.
On either side of the river is the tree of life.
This tree has leaves for the healing of the nations. The word "nations" means that the healing is not just for us insiders, but that is for them too.
I found an April 1999 Interpretation that had survived at least three moves. In it, Gail A. Ricciuti writes about Revelation 21:22-22:5 in the section, Between Text and Sermon.
I hope you also can find a copy and read her entire article. Here's an excerpt:
The end of things will come not by a cosmic catastrophe but a revealing, not from the worst we can imagine, but from the best we dare to hope. The psalmist records that it was by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1). But whereas the rivers of Babylon represented exile, John's river-vision is of a homecoming....Jesus promised, "I am coming soon," and added "I'm going to repay everyone according to their work" (12). Christians of his time needed reassurance during their suffering and encouragement during their temptations.
Rome's power proves no match for the Power embodied in the River flowing from the throne of the God-Lamb, and the Tree rooted by those waters. The ultimate triumph of God is best imagined, paradoxically, in the organic, ecological realm, which proves at last enduring and indestructible in a way that all the the earthly powers were not. The final assurance we are given that God will preside over the end of history as over the beginning of creation, and really preside over it so much as dwell within it....
The final denouement is not a threat but an invitation to us, as inheritors of a blessed future, to begin to build on earth the reality toward which our hope reaches out!
Well, so do we.
We look around and see people being greedy, selfish, uncaring, and could even find some comfort in the notion that they will be paid back some day. At least, we do as long as we can avoid looking in mirrors.
Instead of being glad or afraid of the promise of retribution, it would be better for us to live already in the way Christ has shown us.
Let us hang on to the assurance that anyone who wishes may take the water of life as a gift (17).
Bible readers continue to argue between merit (12) or free gift (17).
How we settle that argument may well determine whether we are looking forward with trepidation or joy to the promise, "Surely I am coming soon."
The Book of Psalms ends with six psalms of praise. Psalm 150 is the last of these, the last in the book, and so helps us reflect on the entire book, all of the songs the ancient people sang and that we still--well, not sing so much--use to guide the words we use to address God.
This psalm begins and ends with the word Hallelujah--The NRSV translates if for us, praise God. We don't use this word in public worship during Lent but not after Easter we should go back to saying it in church and living it in the rest of our lives.
Psalm 150 gives directions for us in praising God. It tells us where, why, how, and who.
Where: in church and everywhere else, as well.
Why: in recognition of what God has done and can do.
How: with trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, dance, strings, pipe, cymbals (I'm assuming the organ in the church can substitute for all these except for dance--what are we going to do about the dance part? maybe the organist would agree to help out with this as well?)
Who: everybody who breathes.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.
Prayer for Today: O Lord, direct us and support us in lives that enable us to welcome your appearance among us. Amen.