Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Refining Moment

Malachi 3: 1-4
Luke 3: 1-6
2nd Week of Advent
Like last week, neither one of today’s scripture readings will make the top ten devotional classic’s for your tender Christmas reflection for they are neither warm or fuzzy.  So it’s not my job today to make you feel good but it’s my job today, as a preacher, to make you uncomfortable.  No apologies.  No warnings.  It’s just that time of year when the tides of the world are going one way and Christians are going another.  But then again, that’s what we are all about and these Christian holy days which have mutated into secular holidays are, for us, refining moments in our lives of faith if we take them to heart.

We heard from Malachi.  Malachi was temple prophet during the Second Temple period, around 515 BCE, who became very disgruntled with the priesthood who just happened to be the sons of Levi.  Levi, of course, was one of the 12 tribes who were singled out as the temple priests.   So Malachi writes this critique of 5th century priesthood.  Now herding clergy is never easy, I’ll admit that.  And in Malachi’s time the Levitical priesthood had spiraled totally out of control.  Malachi says, “Get your act together!”  “The messenger of the Covenant is coming, you’ve been waiting…but what have you done with your time, what have you done to prepare yourself?  And what in the world have you done to this temple while you were waiting?” 

He asks, “How are you going to make it because that messenger is going to be like ‘white-hot fire from the smelters furnace and like the strongest lye soap at the laundry?’” as Eugene Peterson says in The Message.  “You’ll be cleansed alright; you’ll be scrubbed clean and refined like gold and silver until you are fit for God; until you are purified for God’s presence”.  Even though that was long ago and the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, the questions remain.  They are the ones that we need to be asking ourselves today.

The questions of Advent are not, have you started your Christmas shopping yet?  Does your company have a Christmas party?  Are you cooking or do you go somewhere for Christmas dinner?  Would you like to come to my Christmas cookie swap?  These are holiday questions.

Holy Day questions, the questions of Advent are more profound and are meant to shake you up a bit and get you thinking.  Malachi asks, “Who can endure the day of his coming?” (Mal 3:2)  German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his Advent sermon of 1928 while he was in Barcelona, Spain, “The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”  Bonhoeffer, an active resister against Hitler, wrote this just before the beginning of the Holocaust.  He saw what was beginning to happen and the decay in the moral fabric of Germany in the 1930’s.  Later Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and executed only days before the end of the war.

Most people have a conscience.  So, indeed, the coming of God in our midst is frightening news because all we have to do is to look around and see the decline and suffering in our human condition, that’s easy enough.  God wouldn’t be too happy. 

Or, more intimately you can look inside your own heart and soul and see pain, stubbornness, or maybe even unhealthy living.  You and only you can answer the Holy Day questions of Advent.  Is your heart prepared to be God’s dwelling place and to receive the miraculous gift of the Christ within you?  For this is a refining moment in your life, these Advent days.

What needs refining in your life?  What can the coals of the hot-white fire sear away in your pattern of living?  What needs to be scrubbed with lye in your relationships with others? You see preparing for Christmas is not about putting up decorations but it is a taking down of all that impedes your connection with God.  Advent is a stripping away of the façade that we hide behind so that God doesn’t see us for who we really are.  This is a laugh!!  Advent is all about preparation of the Holy Day kind.

Five hundred and nineteen years later another prophet comes along who walked the same byways as Malachi, who gazed at the same temple and who dispatched a similar message to the people because the world was still in disarray.  Hear now the Proclamation of John the Baptist from the Gospel of Luke, the Third Chapter…..

3In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of
Judea, and Herod was ruler* of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler* of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler* of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled,
   and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
   and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

Proclaiming repentance, that’s John the Baptist cry, repent so that you can prepare the way for the Lord.  Make his path straight; raise up the valley and flatten the mountain so that the avenue into your heart is a clear route, an even, smooth byway for Jesus.  Examine and de-clutter.   Scrutinize and expunge.  Study and edit out your nemesis. 

Advent questions our worthiness, our readiness, and our willingness for Jesus to come.
When all this work is done then you will be able to see the salvation of God, so clearly and so brightly, it will be like thousands of sparkling diamonds shining in the night.  Then you will see the Christ, and be able to receive him in your heart ever more so profoundly.

The refining moment has come. Truly the news of Christ’s birth is glad and happy tidings when we have undergone the heat of the fire and the sting of the lye.  Go ahead, begin the process.  There are only a few weeks left.


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