Old Testament Reading
3:1 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. But 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;
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. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
Gospel Reading 1
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Gospel Reading 2
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 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.'”
This week we light the candle of peace and the readings seem to be anything but peaceful. In fact for me personally, this entire week has been anything but peaceful. There have been storms, family and friends have had storms. I spent a lot of time praying and left this talk til the last minute to write because I wasn’t even sure if I would be here.
But, maybe, God was getting my attention all week, preparing me by keeping me focused on what was going on around me. Maybe God was saying, whatever you have planned today? It is not going to happen the way you thought. You will be walking where I tell you, even if it is not where you wanted to go. But there was preparation that had to happen. A friend on facebook who has been posting a sermon every day reminded me of the passage from 1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
Remember that sin entered the world when Eve in the garden was tempted to eat the fruit of the tree – that it was good for food (lust of the flesh), “that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and desirable to make one wise (the pride of life) Jesus was tested with the same three things – bread for flesh, offer of authority over all the splendor of the world for eyes, that the angels would save him for pride.
Hebrews 4:15 assures us that Jesus passed all the tests.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
So let’s look back at todays’ texts. Malachi introduces us to two messengers that God is sending. The first is John the Baptist who is to “prepare the way. The second is the messenger of the covenant – Jesus the messiah. In fact Malachi means messenger. We get dropped into Malachi just past the beginning. There are only fifteen verses in the book of Malachi. And while most of the minor prophets spoke about the coming destruction of Israel and Judah and the surrounding nations, Malachi is different. Like Haggai and Zechariah, he shows up long after the destruction has already happened.
How often have we made choices in our lives that cause us pain, maybe for a day, but maybe for a season, and after we endured the consequences we said things like “I will never do that again”. Things got better and if you are like me, sometimes your memory is not the best. Time goes on and things are fine, and you sort of forget the pain you went through and you find yourself in the same situation, in the same pain because you forgot the lesson you thought you had learned the first time around! Sometimes, we do not even realize that we are making a wrong choice until the pain hits. When we have physical pain, we usually need to go to a doctor. Pain is always a sign that something needs to be healed, fixed, or changed.
A short outline of Malachi would be God loves His children, God disciplines His children for the Priests’ dishonesty, for intermarriage with foreigners, and for men being unfaithful to their wives. God will purify His children (which is where we drop in today) and some will return to the Lord, and God will bless those who fear Him.
Both Haggai and Zechariah had talked about the hope that alludes to a messiah. In Malachi the people feel like God has not kept the promises He made and that they heard about from the Haggai and Zechariah. But the people had drifted away. The priests were still making sacrifices, but instead of bringing God the best, they would bring blind animals, blemished. Basically, they brought God the things that were of no use to them. The people were intermarrying and letting other cultures change them even if it started small. Men were no longer faithful to their wives. Their faith was cheapened, muddied, and basically well, faithless.
Malachi talks about Fullers soap. A Fuller’s job was to cleanse dirt and oil from wool so it would be pure white again. It happened in a field outside the city because the process didn’t smell good.
Malachi also talks about the one who will refine like silver and think about the picture of that. Silver being all muddy and mixed with impurities and the refiner burns away everything that is not silver until it is shiny like a mirror and the refiner can see Himself in the reflection. God will test and cleanse and refine us until we reflect Him. Sometimes that process is not fun, does not smell very good and in fact dying to self and submitting to becoming holy, more like God, can be downright painful! But Malachi reminds us that God has a plan.
Now I don’t know about you, but I confess, I want to skip all that testing and refining part. I want to pass Go and collect my 2 hundred dollars and be done. Hold my nose, ignore my own stinky sin, and just sit next to Jesus. I want to hurry through Advent and get to the good part!
But our readings today tell us to slow down. There is a lot of work to be done. The valleys have to be filled not with what our flesh wants but to be filled with God. The mountains that we think we have climbed on our own, have to be brought low as we remember Who really got us there.
Luke reminds us of the covenant that God made with Abraham. He reminds us of the faithfulness of God and tells us that a light is coming that will guide our feet into what? Into the way of peace.
Luke 3:1-6 lists some powerful men and then he tells us that the word of the Lord came to who? Pontius Pilate? Herod? To a priest? In a temple or a palace? Nope. The Word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He ate locusts, he wore camel skins, and He did not feel like he should be the one to baptize Jesus. In fact he said that he needed to decrease so that Jesus could increase! Less self. More Jesus. Some of those characteristics sound a lot like those three tests don’t they? John knew about tests and he preached repentance. Change direction. Tests will come.
But we have the Holy Spirit to help us when these tests and trials come. We want to jump right to the manger with the angels singing and the cattle lowing and a star shining brightly. Pass Christmas, collect some good feelings and jump right into Easter. Skip the crucifixion and jump right into resurrection. Skip repentance and go directly to grace.
But none of that brings the kind of peace that God has for us. The kind of peace that stays inside, no matter what happens on the outside.
Which of us, if we are sick, goes to the doctor and gets a prescription. A prescription that comes with precise instructions. The doctor assures us that he knows exactly what the problem is and if we follow his instructions we will be made well, and then we don’t go get the prescription because we know better than the doctor right? Or we get the prescription and it says to take 3 pills a day and we only take two because we do not want to do all of that. We want to hold onto some of that because we only want to be partly well. Not completely well. Or maybe we start feeling better and we stop taking that medicine because we are cured right? And guess what? The sickness creeps back in and we are right back where we started.
But here is the thing. Paul writes to the church at Phillippi, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul’s prayer for this church is “that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
When my kids were small they would watch Sesame Street and there was a matching game where they would sing this song – one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong.
If we are to produce a harvest of righteousness, if we are to be found pure and blameless, then we have to line ourselves up with Jesus Christ and let go of the things that our flesh wants, the things we want to see, and the things we take pride in. Ouch We can’t do that without the help of the Holy Spirit who will help us decrease so that within us, Christ can increase.
We are waiting. And with Christmas, we get in a hurry. There is so much to do. There is so much going on. Waiting during this time of year often looks more like running. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of peace. And if we are running and doing and preparing and spending, we have little time for the One who is coming. The one we are waiting for. The one with whom we can learn to have peace with God and peace with each other.
So this year as you look at the Christmas lights, I hope you will remember the one who is coming to guide our feet into peace. When you see the shiny ornaments reflecting everything around them, I hope you will remember the refiner of silver who wants you to submit to that process until the only thing that people see in you is Jesus. I pray that as you decorate and run and shop and cook, that you will remember that there are valleys to be filled and mountains to flatten and the work that God has begun in you will be completed if you submit to what He has for you and that you will be filled with the peace of Jesus Christ. Amen?