If you’re planning to have people over during the holidays, you have to get the house ready, which means doing the winter cleaning. Dusting, mopping, vacuuming, and polishing, cleaning the bathrooms and washing the table cloths. Of course, you’ll have to prepare the food, unless you decide to save time and hire a caterer. And once you get all that done, you have to get yourself ready. After all, a good host has to be properly bathed and clothed. To start with you might take a trip to Nordstrom's or maybe Ross to get just the right outfit. Then there’s the hair, always the hair. It has to be cut, curled, and colored! And when everything else is ready, you can go take a shower, because a good host wants to be clean and refreshed. At least that’s what you have to do if you want to throw a successful high society Christmas party.
PREPARE THE WAY!!
This is the second Sunday in Advent, and Advent is a season of preparation. During this season we get ready for Christmas. Now, Malachi, which is the last book in the Old Testament, tells of a messenger who will clear a path and get things ready for the Lord’s appearance in the Temple. We don’t know anything about this prophet except that he lived sometime in the fourth century BC when Judah was under Persian rule. The prophet’s name means "My Messenger" and his message comes in the form of a question: "Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" When the question is put that way, what can you say except: Is anybody really ready to stand before the Lord? The answer, surprisingly, is yes, but you have to get ready first.
THE REFINERS FIRE
If the President of the United States were to visit your home, what would you do? Would you be ready when he knocks on your door? Well, of course you'd be ready, after all, the President of the United States doesn't drop in unexpectedly. The Secret Service is going to make sure you’re ready. After all, the President isn’t just anyone, the President is the leader of the Free World. So, you want to be at your best.
If God is going to pay a visit, don’t you want to be just as ready? The good news is this: God has given us fair warning of his visitation. The messenger even tells how we can get ready. The Lord, Malachi says, is like "a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he 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." (Mal. 3:2b-3). Amazingly we can get ready simply by being in God’s presence, which is like the refiner's fire that removes the impurities from gold and silver ore. So by being in God’s presence we are transformed into God’s righteousness.
We live in a very casual society, which is okay, except that sometimes we take our casualness too far. We can become too nonchalant and not take life seriously enough. For instance, if I go to a funeral or a wedding in jeans and a tee-shirt, am I properly dressed? I’d say no, but of course, that’ just me!
So what’s the proper attire for coming into the Lord’s presence? White robes? A tuxedo for the men and an evening gown for the women? I don’t think God is all that concerned about what we wear, but God is definitely concerned about what goes on inside of us. And that’s the message of the prophet, God is here to transform us into a new person.
THE MESSENGER REVEALED
So, am I ready? And I don’t mean: am I ready for Christmas? John the Baptist heard God calling out to him while he was living in the wilderness. John responded by going out and preaching the baptism of repentance. Now he might have looked and sounded a bit crazy, and if you had seen him down at the Jordan River, you’d think he was a bit off his rocker. After all, he wore animal skins and ate locusts. But John’s message, like Malachi’s, was a warning that told the people to get ready for the Lord’s coming. John said: Take a bath and wash away the impurities of your life.
When I look inside myself, I see much that needs to be washed away, things that need to face the refiner's fire and the fuller’s soap. I see the covetousness and the lust, the impatience and the anger. If we’re honest, all of us can say the same thing
Luke turned to Isaiah who told of one who would make the paths straight so that "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; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Is. 40, Luke 3:4-6). I love the mountains and the hills, but the path through them isn’t straight. It’s crooked and windy, full of barriers that must be traversed. But, when the messenger comes, he will prepare a path that looks something like I-70 as it heads across western Kansas. That highway is as straight as an arrow. Whether you’re looking back or looking forward, that road moves straight to the horizon. There are no barriers, no blockages. It’s a strange sensation to drive across the plains, but this is the highway the Lord will take, only it’s internal one. If we’re going to fully enjoy the blessings of God, the blockages and the impurities must be removed.
The gospel message is one of grace. God takes us where we’re at and loves us, but God doesn’t leave us where he finds us. As we experience God’s presence, we are transformed. All that brokenness that’s inside us is healed and we become a new person. In baptism, God’s cleansing grace washes as clean and we are readied to walk with God. Now, this process, which begins in baptism, continues throughout our lives. Every day we experience God’s refining fire and like the phoenix we are reborn.
The message of Christmas is that God will be revealed in a baby born in Bethlehem’s manger. The question is, are we ready to meet that babe who is the incarnation of our creator? The answer is yes. If we let the Spirit of God transform us, we’ll be ready for Christmas and the revealing of God’s holiness and righteousness in that babe born in Bethlehem.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc
2nd Sunday of Advent
December 10, 2006