“Look! I’m sending my messenger on ahead to clear the way for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Leader you’ve been looking for will enter his Temple—yes, the Messenger of the Covenant, the one you’ve been waiting for. Look! He’s on his way!” A Message from the mouth of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance?
He’ll be like white-hot fire from the smelter’s furnace. He’ll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He’ll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they’re fit for God, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Then, and only then, will Judah and Jerusalem be fit and pleasing to God, as they used to be in the years long ago” (Malachi 3: 1-4, MSG)
Martin L. Smith, an episcopal priest in Washington D.C. says that “many have difficulty grasping that the coming of God’s grace and truth [as in Advent] exposes and calls to account everything false and tonic in human relations, politics, business, and religion” (Sojourner, December, 2018). (Living in Washington D.C. must bring this concept home to him daily!)
Smith goes on to ask: As we listen these words of Malachi in the Messiah this Advent season, how many of us “will connect the prophet’s holding to account of the corrupt temple priesthood with the crisis in the Roman Catholic Church over institutional failure to protest its children from clerical sexual predators.” Or, we may add, with the fawning support for President Trump by some on the American evangelical right. Many of Jesus’ strongest words are spoken to the religious leaders of his time who represented themselves as God’s holy ones. The cleansing of white-hot fire was called for then and is certainly called for now.
Jesus is the Refiner’s fire! If we don’t understand this, we might want to be careful what we wish for during Advent. Eugene Peterson’s fiery words in The Message makes this role very clear; Jesus will be white-hot fire, the strongest lye soap. He will refine us and cleanse us until we are fit and pleasing for God. These words are set in the context of the announcement of the coming of the “Messenger of the Covenant,” the one we have been waiting for. This One-We-Have-Been-Waiting-For will not only usher in God’s Kingdom on earth – a kingdom of love and mercy and grace – but also give us His Spirit who, if we allow it, will train us to let go of our human failings and become more like Jesus in the process.
This reminder provides a new topic for meditation and prayer during this Advent Season. I pray, “Come, Jesus!” But will I be able to face this man Jesus, who is also the Son of God coming to us in righteousness and glory? What do I need to do to prepare for this encounter this Advent? What needs to be scrubbed or burned out of my life? What do I need to say to the people around me, to the Church, to the world about this Refiner’s Fire? I must, we must, be on our knees in respect to the Son of God who comes as a baby to save us from ourselves.