Summary: Advent #2 - What to do about the heat in your life
1See, 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. Malachi 3:1 - 4 (NRSV)
You may have seen the “God-signs” on billboards that were popular the last several years. My favorite is the one that says, Don’t make me come down there…God. There’s something about that “parental warning” that strikes a chord from my childhood!
Our text has that kind of flavor. The people of Israel were a lot like my dog, Annie. When Annie was young she chased cars a lot. She never actually caught a car or truck, but what a surprise she would have gotten if she did.
Israel prayed hard for the “Day of the LORD”. They imagined it would be a good thing for God to show up and bring a little justice. The only difficulty with their thinking was that they weren’t practicing much justice themselves. You’ve got to be just a little spiritually-blind and dense to crave justice when you don’t practice justice. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we will be forgiven our trespasses to the same degree that we forgive others their trespasses! Justice!
Malachi’s prophecy is God’s way of saying, “OK, you want me down there….you got it! Brace yourselves!” This is a very appropriate theme for Advent. There is an element of judgment that we cannot escape, because God’s promise of sending a Savior also presupposes that the world needs a Savior. Judgment is not a popular theme today, but this is a fallen world, and the God of heaven is not silent on sin! Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes of this theme of judgment in an Advent sermon he preached in 1928:
It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming, so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God . . . . We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are 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. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for every one who has a conscience.
Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.