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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. Malachi 3.1-4
My 5-year old, Jack, has a fascination, if not infatuation with GPS systems. His GG and Papa have these navigation systems in their vehicles and whenever he rides with them the first thing he asks is if "he can hear the lady give them directions."
And when he rides in my car, which does not have a GPS, no problem, he becomes one himself.
"Daddy, I'm going to tell you about the miles," which means he's my GPS. And in the same voice inflection as "the lady," he tells me, if not orders me, to "proceed on the current road for .9 of a miles and then veer right."
Just what I need - one more voice telling me where to go!
This is what the prophetic messengers of Advent do - like spiritual GPS systems, they offer navigational guidance from where we are, to where we seek to go, and what we need to do to get there.
Like Malachi and the other prophetic voices of the Hebrew Scriptures, and, John the Baptist himself whose "voice cries out from the wilderness" - for us to "prepare the way of the Lord, make straight a highway for our God," Advent announces the perpetual truth of Christ's coming, but lest we be already made perfect, we, each of us, must enact a course correction to meet the Promised One of God.
And I'm talking about more than a simple veering to the right - The prophets tell us to do more than that - repentance, quite literally, means "turn around."
In the Christian Bible, Malachi is the last of the 12 great prophets, even the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures. The messenger's call for a course correction is one that, while necessary, is not easy.
Using terms like refiners fire and fullers' soap - we can't make the course corrections we need until we've come clean with those things that have perpetuated the life we've been living, and the road we've been traveling.
Do you remember crucibles in high school chemistry?
Under intense heat the moisture is evaporated away and you're left with the essential "stuff" of the substance.
In the crucible, and under the refiners fire - there is no fluff, there is no spin, there is no equivocation, there is no place to hide - all that is left is what it is. No more and no less.
The crucible holds truth, uncorrupted and pure.
It is from this place that course corrections can begin.
So, for this Advent, where are course corrections needed?
- In our world and at our time, course corrections are not always embraced, because to change course means that we have to admit the one we were on wasn't the right one. Just ask the Iraq Study Group. Would the prophets of old have anything to say about this conflict that has now lasted longer than the whole of our engagement in World War II - something of note as we passed another "date which shall live in infamy" only last Thursday.
- What could some time over the refiners fire do for this mess as our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and neighbors, volunteer to serve with honor and distinction while the "decider" who orders them into battle bows to the gods of pride, ego and Halliburton.
- On this day when we think of "Peace," what course corrections need to be made in this conflict to reach it? What needs to happen in Darfur? What needs to happen in the land into which Jesus was born and violence reigns still between Palestinians and Israelis.
- The Evangelical Right Wing is throwing a full blown conniption fit because Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, Democrat from Minnesota, and a Muslim, wants to place his hand on the Koran when he takes the oath of office. What's the problem? He's Muslim. This sacred text is the expression of his faith and the tool through which he lives with integrity. When is freedom of religion not freedom of religion. Look carefully folks, it's all over the place.
- In the paper this past week, there appeared an article reporting that 2% of adults in the world possess 51% of the world's assets. Let's put the gods of the marketplace and capitalism in the crucible for the refiners fire and see what's left. I'm guessing you'll find some greed, insecurity, and lust for power still in the crucible when all's said and done.
- In Virginia this past week, it was reported that the Vice-President's daughter and her partner are expecting a child. And because the Commonwealth will not acknowledge, much less, honor their covenantal relationship, her partner will not have any legal claim to the child she will help raise. And what of those of our sisters and brothers called of God to do extraordinary things but find that the Church will not credential and endorse their work because of their sexual identity. Let's put those over the refiners fire and see if there's anything left but fear and bigotry.
This Advent, let's put our own lives in the crucible and see what's left.
Over the refiners fire, we find not only what we're made of, but what impurities need to be burned away.
- Abuse (physical, mental, sexual)
- Lust for Power
Advent calls us to come clean - and once clean - now we begin - the course correction is now possible, and not one moment before.
So, as I'm pulling onto my street with my human GPS in back seat, I hear "you have reached your destination."
I wonder if the little prophet in the family recognizes how right he is.
When we come clean, we can change our course, and when we change our course, this Advent, we can embrace the One who is come to set us free.
Even so, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.