Monday, December 10, 2018

Can You Stand It?

Advent 2
December 9
Malachi & Luke 3

Malachi is the last book of the Hebrew scriptures.
The book that comes right before the gospels.
We don’t know if Malachi is a proper name,
or if it just means “messenger”

Malachi warns the people about many of the same things that
the other prophets did: straying from God, corruption, greed,
political leaders who don’t care about the people,
and religious leaders selling out to political leaders.

Malachi says that God is coming into the world
and God will send a messenger first, 
who will get things straightened out.
This messenger, Malachi says, 
will not be sweet and mild,
this message will be painful and uncomfortable.
it will be like a refiners fire or a fuller’s soap.

When you get silver it’s combined 
with lead and other metals.
The refiner will heat it to a 
very high temperature, making it liquid
And then the bad metal rises to the top, then
the refiner would scrape off the impurities, 
or the dross, leaving the pure silver.  Ouch.

The fuller was the one who would clean the wool after it was sheared
from the sheep to prepare it for dying different colors.
Sheep aren’t clean animals, and they aren’t completely white,
so the soap was caustic. It was so caustic
that they made the fullers do their washing
outside of the city limits because of the smell. Ouch.

Refiner’s fire, fuller’s soap.
Not comfortable images, especially since
we’re the silver and the wool.

The messenger says, The Lord is coming,
God is coming into the world,
And the question Malachi asks is “can you stand it?”
Will you be able to take it when it happens?

I think when a lot of us think of the coming of Jesus
we like to think of a sense of well being, calm, joy and assurance,
especially around Christmas,
we get filled with images of sugar plums and sweet little babies.
But that is not the imagery we get today.
We get high heat and caustic soap.
We get John the Baptist yelling at us to repent
and change our ways.

Someone said that the coming of Jesus is like water.
The waters of baptism: now water is necessary, life giving,
beautiful, water, cooling, good, and pure.
But the problem really is, that the kingdom of this world is like pure sodium.
-- the pure metal sodium not table salt which is sodium chloride.
I had to look this up, and then I checked it with Violet, our resident Chemistry PHD. 
What happens when water meets sodium? Kaboom.

Our ways and God’s ways don’t always mix together well.
The prophets in the early days knew that
God’s coming wouldn’t mean instant peace and tranquility.
And so we get the gospels. Kaboom.

And they don’t open with a nice, sweet story of God’s reign coming
in peacefully, like a cool breeze washing over us on a summer’s day.
We get John the Baptist. Kaboom. Water meets sodium.

Actually, Luke begins the story of Jesus ministry
with a list of the  leaders that were contemporary with Jesus birth,
Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Traconitis, Lysanias, Annas Caiaphas.
History knows all of these reigns and leaderships to be
chaotic and corrupt. They will not last. By the word of God will.
Almost as if Luke is saying that their claims to authority are not ultimate.
John has been commissioned to prepare the way for a new kind of rule.
And we know people don’t give up their rule willingly.

Preparing God’s path towards peace means transforming the
world as we know it, valleys filled, mountains laid low,
crooked things made straight: it all sounds terrific, until we
remember that we all use those valleys, we live on those mountains,
we are part of what’s making the roads crooked.

Sin isn’t just a few isolated choices we make in our lives,
our lives are embroiled in sin,
we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We work in it, we watch it happen,
we are consumers of it, we benefit from it,
we enjoy it regularly, it’s part of our wants and even our needs.
All those words up there are not outside of us,
they are a part of us, a part of the world that we like and love.

Preparing the way means letting go of
things that we have become accustomed to,
things that have made us what we are.

And that’s why the messenger of Jesus starts
with a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Because John the Baptist knows that
we are right at home in this world of sodium
and we need to let go of it.

And That is why the forgiveness of Jesus is so important
that is why the Grace of God is so vital to our life and our salvation.
Because we cannot extract ourselves completely
we need the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
So Christ is coming, but can we stand it?
Will we enjoy this change or will we latch on tightly to those
old ways, those temporary things that do not work in God’s kingdom?
Will we be able to stand the refiners fire,
can we take the fullers soap?
Will we be ready when the waters of baptism,
meet the sodium that is still in us? Kaboom?

Will we be able to hear the forgiveness that Jesus brings,
will be embrace the salvation that God is giving us?
Christ is coming, God is near, we can feel it,
The sweet breeze of forgiveness and salvation is just around the corner.

But first, the valleys will be filled, the mountains will be laid low.
the crooked will be made straight and the rough made smooth.
Then all flesh will see the salvation of God.

So repent and get ready, prepare the way
because the world is about to turn.

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