Fire and Light

Lectionary Scripture Text: Malachi 3: 1-4 (Advent 2C)

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. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m focusing on Light this Advent—those flashes of light that come unexpectedly, often unbidden, that fill our lives with illuminating color and spark.  But light is not always welcome.  It’s not always a warm twinkle that tiptoes in or peeks over the horizon as it waits until your eyes are adjusted to it.  Sometimes it is hot and explosive, even blinding.  Sometimes it comes as a burning bush or a chariot of fire.  And sometimes it is almost destructive, a white-hot fire that burns out of our control.

This Scripture from the Book of Malachi speaks of a fire such as this.  It is a refiner’s fire that will reform the society in preparation for the day of the Lord’s coming.  It is a purifying Light that will change everything and everyone that it touches.  Its first hearers were probably as uncomfortable with this whole fire message as we might be.  After all, fire is destructive.  Fire burns.  It is a light that consumes, that destroys.  But it also purifies.  It purifies by burning away the ore so the precious metal inside is revealed.  It is intense, heating beyond what most of us can normally stand.  But one has to get close enough to the fire to work with the metal for it to be refined.  It is risky.  It might even be painful.  But it is the only way for all the impurities to be removed.  The impurities must be burned away until the new part is revealed.

You’ve probably already heard this illustration because I’ve used it before, but it’s wonderful as it 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.

Light always brings about change.  Sometimes it’s warm and inviting—a sunrise, a guidelight, a lamp.  And other times the Light brings about change so fast that it is painful.  But we are meant to be changed.  We are meant to be refined.  Our very image is being burned into the change that we see in this world.  This Advent light is on the horizon.  We can’t push it away, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.  It is our journey—into the Light.  And we WILL be changed.  And, finally, the image in which we were created, that very image of God, will be revealed.

But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call brings up the curtain, always, on a miracle of transfiguration-a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth.  The familiar life horizon has been outgrown, the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. (Joseph Campbell) 

Grace and Peace,


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