"Oh that you would shut the temple doors so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you" says the LORD Almighty. [Malachi 1:10]

How these words pierced my heart the first time I read them. Throughout the Old Testament we read the story of a loving Father who has called, provided for, delivered, protected, disciplined, encouraged, and loved a people. A nation. When they cried for food in the desert, He sent manna. When they cried for meat, He sent meat. When they cried for a king, He provided a king. When they cried for deliverance, He delivered. When they cried for His presence, He filled the temple. When they cried for mercy, He was merciful.

And yet, at the close of these thirty nine sacred texts it has come to this.

A Father saying "I would rather you not visit me at all, than bring the detestable sacrifices you are bringing". Does it pierce your heart?

"When you bring injured, crippled, or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD. "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord." [Malachi 1:13-14a]

A people reduced to offering their second (or third, or fourth...) best to a Father who had always loved them well. And after centuries of disobedience and idolatry, He was finally fed up.

"Oh that you would shut the temple doors so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!" There it is, the exclamation point that draws my attention. They are rare in Scripture and so demand a closer look. I hear such pain in these words. Heartbreak. It is a Father saying to His son "if you can't treat me with any more respect than this... just go!"

And in case we did not yet understand, our Father spells it out... "I am not pleased with you".

I remember days with two year old Zachary, always full of energy and curiosity, figuring out his world and often times finding himself in trouble. Except in his exuberance and childlike ignorance... he never seemed to realize that he was being disciplined until I sat him in a chair, dropped to my knees, looked him right in the eye and said sternly "you are in TROUBLE". He literally didn't know until he was told. Then his little face would crumble, tears welling in his eyes...

That is what this passage of scripture makes me feel like. Because I read it, and I look into my life... and I see so many areas that I offer God my second, or third, or fourth best... Times I spend watching trash on television that I could be meditating on His word. Times I spend saying things that should not be said, when I could be using my words to edify and encourage others. Times I put my desire for that pretty new thing over His call to live generously. Times I have stopped short of saying the things He has put in my heart to say.

And then, a mere 1000 or so words later, God falls silent. After a millennium of near constant contact with the Father through His prophets, His words cease falling to earth. Four hundred long years of... silence.

"I am not pleased with you"...

Had these been the last words heard from Heaven, where would our hope be?

But His plan was not to leave us in our sin. He looked upon our detestable sacrifices, our second and third and fourth best... and answered with His own Son. Like any fine Father, He led by example, offering His very best. Himself. God-Man. A perfect, unblemished sacrifice. Once for All. What we were unable to do, He accomplished for us.

I think of those moments when my children were born. The time between birth and hearing their first feeble cries... the air heavy in the room with the wait. Unable to see what the doctors and nurses were doing, these cries were the reassurance that all was okay. The wait over, new life begun.

To think... of the babe Jesus... his first cries echoing from the stone walls of a crude stable... after four hundred years of the wait.

The reassurance that all was okay.

New life begun.

Not just for this extraordinary child. But for all. This baby, born to die. It's hard to grasp. Impossible to get our minds around... Baby with fists pumping in the air that would one day carry the nails. For you. For me.

How all of creation must have craned to hear those cries. How all of heaven must have leaned in to see this moment of Light entering the darkness. A collective sigh of comfort and hope and knowledge that all was okay.

Jesus, showing us the way.

This is what sacrifice looks like. This is an offering pleasing to God. The One who gave Himself. The One who led by example. Bearing the weight of our sin and our shame, fulfilling the law... no longer are rams and sheep carried into the temple. He paid the price. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that we may someday wear robes of righteousness.

He came as a babe, offering of Self, so that we may know this overwhelming love of the Father. So that we may be able to offer of self. Offer our heart. Offer our will. Offer our minds. All to the One who is worthy. All to the One who made a way for us to approach the throne of grace without bloodstained hands.

When we were unable to reconcile ourselves to God. He reconciled Himself to us.

Don't lose your wonder this Christmas season. We celebrate so much more than the birth of a baby... we celebrate the birth of a Savior. A baby, born to die. A baby who came so that we would know the way. That we would know the path of humility. Servanthood. Love. Boldness. Hope. Relationship. Sacrifice.

Don't lose your wonder at what this babe came to accomplish. What He DID accomplish. Piercing the silence with the cries of an infant, cries that brought hope and life and light.

I think of Father God looking me directly in the eye. The intensity of His gaze... but the words... the words have changed.  No longer those words that pierce my heart with condemnation...

a different set of heart-piercing words... "well done, good and faithful servant..." Ah, to hear those words some day!

All because of a baby, crying out from a manger. Because of His sacrifice. His example. His Spirit indwelling and guiding. Because He has shown us the way to the Father... this babe. This babe the way.  Because of this baby, we may hear these beautiful words from the Father who only knows how to love well.

Don't lose your wonder this Christmas Season! Four hundred years of silence shattered by the cries of a newborn. 

What a difference a baby makes....!

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