Malachi 3:1-4 Canticle 16 Philippians 1:3-11 Luke 3:1-6
As we continue the season of Advent, we have Malachi saying the messenger of the covenant is coming and then asks the question, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” Paul, too, writes of the day of Christ, and Paul’s prayer that the love of the believers will overflow, their knowledge of Christ increase that they might be pure and blameless “in the day of Christ.” Then, the Gospel talks of John the Baptism “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John is the voice crying out in the wilderness, calling upon us to prepare the way of the Lord.
Advent is indeed a season of preparation, a time in which the excitement of Christ’s coming is building. Christ’s coming, though, raises a lot of questions. Just as expectant parents are nervous and unsure of how a new life will impact their lives – we don’t know either. Will we be able to stand when Christ appears?
Malachi suggests his coming will be like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. The Lord will be “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.” Just the thought of being purified by fire is painful – which I think makes this a good metaphor for how our lives are transformed.
The birth of a child is not easy and being “born again” into the life of Christ is not easy either. We don’t typically talk about being born again in the Episcopal Church, and frankly I never thought I would use this phrase in a sermon, but birth and purification by fire are examples of how the pain is often a part of an experience which transforms our lives.
We tend to avoid pain, but working in healthcare I learned that in the face of life changing events people let go of all the pretense and focus on what is most important to them. More often than not, their focus turns to the people they love. Big differences often become insignificant and what occupied the majority of their time seems unimportant. Or, as we heard from Luke, “every 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.”
We all experience trauma and illness in our lives – whether it is someone we love or we ourselves who experiences it, we experience it together. In the midst of these struggles, we often find we are able see clearly that what we believed to be mountains are actually mole hills. The mountains and hills are made low. And, I might add, that in these experiences many of us want the path to be made straight, we appreciate those who get straight to the point and tell us what we need to hear.
As painful as these events in our lives may be, we can emerge with a clearer focus and a greater appreciation for life and what gives it meaning. Letting go of what we once believed to be important is not easy, but it is often necessary if we are to find the joy we seek. When the painful event we experience is the death of a loved one, we do not – should not – let go and move on. Instead, we need to acknowledge our loss and hold fast to our memories. We may not initially be able to experience joy, but over time we can as we re-live our time together in our memories.
The use of a fuller’s fire to purify precious metals, is one that is important to see for what it is – a purification process – not a punishment, and certainly not eternal. Whatever trauma we experience in our lives is not God’s punishment for our sins. It can, however, be a catalyst for change, for us to become true to our inner nature. It can help us in our journey by makings the path straight and level.
In writing his prayer for those who follow Christ, Paul reminds us what it is we seek along this path. We seek love. We seek God who is the source of all love and through Christ we can experience God’s love is such abundance that it overflows.
This is my prayer for St. Paul’s as well. I pray that we may seek that which is important, that we may experience that which is important, and that we might share what we find with others – God’s love for all of creation.
Let us pray.
Loving God, you have filled the world with your love. Help us, we pray, that is the dark times of our lives we might experience your love and began our journey on the path you have laid before us. Help us to use this season of Advent to proclaim the coming of your Son that others might become curious enough to join us as we walk in your way of truth and love. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.