Malachi 3: 1-3
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. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he 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.
We all know that Advent is the Season of Preparation. And each of us is all too aware how much preparation that really entails and what we have to do over the next 19 days (Ahem…19 days!). But, sadly, most of us are kind of missing the point. Advent is not just meant to be a 4-week lead up to the big day. It’s really it’s own thing. And in this time, we are called to prepare ourselves by allowing God to guide us down a new pathway so we really will be ready for what is next. But we have to be open to change. We have to be open to BEING changed. It’s not easy. It was never promised that it would be easy. This season is about more than preparing or getting ready for Jesus’ coming. It is also about preparing ourselves, opening our hearts to the change that comes with that.
The passage from Malachi echoes that same thing. Malachi literally means “messenger”. We don’t know if that was someone’s name or what. But the messenger carries a promise of God’s coming, a promise we’ve heard before. But this time it is compared to a refiner’s fire or fuller’s soap that will reform the society in preparation for the day of the Lord’s coming.
But we’re probably a bit uncomfortable with the whole fire thing. Fire is destructive. Fire burns. But it also purifies. It purifies by burning away the ore so that the precious metal inside is revealed. It is intense. But the point is that one has to get close enough to the fire to work with the metal for that to happen. It is risky. It might even be painful. But it is the only way for all the impurities to be gone. We have to endure our own impurities, our own shortcomings, being burned away until we are made new. Part of it is up to us.
I’ve used this before but there is a wonderful illustration from an unknown author that tells the story of a woman watching a silversmith at work. “But Sir,” she said, “do you sit while the work of refining is going on?” “Oh, yes madam, “replied the silversmith, “I must sit with my eye steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the time necessary for refining be exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured.” So as the lady was leaving the shop, the silversmith called her back, and said he had still further to mention, that he only knows when the process of purifying was complete, by seeing his own image reflected in the silver.
That’s what God is doing for us—refining our lives, preparing them, burning away the impurities until God’s own image in which we are made is finally revealed. John Wesley would have called the journey of sanctification, or going onto perfection in Christ. And then this image of the fuller’s soap may be lost on us who are more accustomed to throwing Tide pods in a washing machine. When the weaving of a fabric is complete, it is sent to a fuller, who cleans it and gets rid of the loose threads and makes it more tightly bound together. The process means that the fabric becomes “full”, just as our lives do on this journey toward the Divine.
But we tend to concentrate on the easy and enjoyable part of God’s coming, focusing solely on a God who will make our lives better. In that way, we are no different than those that looked for the Messiah the first time. The truth is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in a 1928 Advent sermon, “We [become] indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.” Lays claim…asks us to change…asks us to become something new…asks us to let go of all those things that we hold, of all that we are so trying to control in our lives and travel down the pathway that God has laid. Prepare the way? Yeah…it’s not talking about your Christmas decorations; It’s talking about YOU. It’s talking about preparing yourself for what is next.
Make many acts of love, for they set the soul on fire and make it gentle. (Mother Teresa)
Grace and Peace,