‘Day of the Lord’ can bring victory — or judgment

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

How does God decide? When Notre Dame plays Texas Christian, who will win the game?

We often tend to assume that God is on our side. Surely, God thinks the same way that we do.

We are not the first to take such an approach. The ancient Israelites believed that God would fight with them against their enemies. After all, the Lord is the God of Israel. 

The day of battle on which God would come to their aid, the Israelites called “the day of the Lord.”

For example, in the Book of Isaiah the prophet, God promises to destroy Israel’s enemy, Babylon: “Howl, for the day of the Lordis near; as destruction from the Almighty it comes. Therefore all hands fall helpless, the bows of the young men fall from their hands” (Is 13:6-7a).

Similarly, the Book of Ezekiel the prophet predicts destruction for another enemy of Israel, Egypt:

“For near is the day, near is the day of the Lord; a day of clouds, doomsday for the nations shall it be. Then a sword shall come upon Egypt, and anguish shall be in Ethiopia, when the slain fall in Egypt, when her riches are seized and her foundations are overthrown” (Ez 30:3-4). 

Eventually, the prophets of Israel began to understand that the day of the Lord could also come as punishment for their own sins. During the day of the Lord, God would exercise judgment on the people of Israel. 

That is the idea that we see operating in Sunday’s first reading, Mal 3:19-20a: “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire.”

This understanding continued on into the time of the New Testament. Two Sundays ago, we heard a reference to it in the second reading, from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians:  

“We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a ‘spirit’ or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand” (1:11 – 2:2).

We might note that here the notion of the day of the Lord combines with the return of Christ, the second coming. It is the day of judgment, when Christ will act as judge of the living and the dead.

Besides warning about the coming judgment of the wicked, the passage from Malachi also offers hope for the righteous: “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

As Christians, we can identify the sun of justice with Jesus Christ. He is the one who can shine his light in the midst of a day of doom. 

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