Saturday, December 08, 2012

C, Advent 2 – Malachi 3:1-4 “My Messenger”

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The notice in the local paper read, "Jesus Christ appearing this Sunday morning at such and such a place and at such and such a time."
Would you be surprised God might use such a message to announce the coming of his Son to a spot near you? The advertisement is nothing grand; its text does not stand out from the other ads in the classifieds. What if God chose to send a messenger or a message in this way, how might you react on hearing or reading of his coming?
For the purpose of this exercise let's say the message is not false, but entirely true and Jesus Christ is coming to a venue near you. The words of the ad are the preparation for his coming and the way he comes is to your church this Sunday.
Excited? Scared? Perplexed? Thrilled? Perhaps you're just a bit apprehensive that he's coming, "Why's he coming to my church?" you ask yourself. "Where's he comin' from and how's he gettin' here anyway?"
Malachi receives an oracle from the Lord. He is a prophet and this oracle is a word from God; a word of burden on Malachi's heart if he doesn't pass it onto the people. It's a word or an utterance which has overcome his heart and mind. Put there by God himself to glorify God and raise the attention of those called to hear it. This word was given to lift up, stir up, sit up, shape up but also to ease, to exalt, to forgive, and help.
Malachi spoke in a time after some of the exiles returned to rebuild the temple in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra. However, the messianic age did not occur with the reconstruction of the temple. What they built was a building which stood in the shadows of the former temple of King David's and King Solomon's time.
This temple lacked the physical appearance of the former temple, and also noted was a spiritual vacancy. It seemed God no longer spoke as he had in previous times prior to their exile into the custody of the Babylonians. The Israelite's looked back to the days when God spoke through the Judges, the Priests like Samuel and Nathan, the prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. God had spoken, and no one listen, and now God had stopped speaking.
Malachi was the last prophet to speak some 430 years before Christ was born. He was the last to speak on God's behalf against the perversions of popular practice. He was a lone voice echoing from the silence of God before God went completely silent for some 400 years.
Malachi's name literally means "my messenger", he was a messenger and we hear him herald the coming of two messengers, the last prophet, and then a great messenger, who himself would be the message.
"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, 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 sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3:1–4 ESV)
Malachi's message is harsh and sharp. They have not been treating the Lord as their God; their righteousness was not acceptable as righteousness before the Lord. They were not following God in the way he had willed them; in righteousness "to" the Lord. Their worship of the Lord was a show which God was going to test as a blacksmith would refine metals, and as a fuller would cleanse and whiten fibre for fabric.
To be clear what the washing agent was for a fuller in their day, was human urine. Not the fresh stuff, but that which was left to sit for a while so the ammonia content was stronger and better for cleaning and bleaching the fabric.
So the show was going to be refined by fire, and stood on like fibre worked in ankle deep urine. But this is only a picture of who is to come. To whom is the refiner's and the fuller's image referring?
The one to come came some 400 years after the fact. John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the refiner, the fuller.
…during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:2–3 ESV)
But whom was he preparing and of whom did he proclaim? He was calling the Jews and the Israelites to repentance for their sins against the Lord. A preparation for the cleansing which was to come! This was preparation to make the people ready for the refiner, for the fuller.
John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16 ESV)
So Malachi left his fellow Jews with a picture of one coming to wash in the widdle of one's own waste fluid and made pure with fire to remove the impurities.
And this one is the One and Only Son of God, Jesus Christ. He has come once and he is coming again. Yet he has already put the refinement and washing process into place. And he is coming again to finish what he has started. He is coming to gather the gold and the fabric gleaming in God's glory.
Now depending on how one might look at this we might see the ammonia of urine and the fire of refinement as something to be feared. We might regret the trials and tribulations into which we're subjected and in which we suffer. But if we fall into this temptation we are like those who love wearing dross rather than silver or gold; who seek to swim in the proverbial piddle and poop that comes our way in this life rather than those who wear the white garments to come out of the process.
On the other hand, Christ encourages his children, those who trust him, those who look forward in faith, enduring and persevering under the refiners and fullers of this life as a preparation of that which is to come. An eternity of silver and gold, wearing robes of righteousness as white and as bright as our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
For we are told… when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:4–8 ESV)
Therefore the refiner's fire and the fuller's soap, no matter how crude they may seem are only agents of cleansing and hope for those focused on Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus has been submerged into the fuller's fluid and fired with the refiner's fires in the place of all those who trust in him.
The message may not be written in the paper, that Jesus is coming to such and such a place at such and such at time. But it is written on paper, in the Word of God. He has been coming and has come amongst us when we gather in the Triune name, and in his word to hear this teaching and promise of salvation and refinement. Therefore, those who take their garments soiled in sin can make them as white as snow by washing them in the blood of Jesus.
You see Jesus has been baptised by the Holy Spirit into his ministry of the cross and with fires of hell itself on Good Friday, so that the trials and temptations in your life might test us so we trust all the more the putrid and pungent plight of Christ being washed and refined for you, cleansing you this Sunday and every time the Holy Spirit calls and gathers us into Jesus' presence.
Jesus is my messenger and he is the message, I pray he is yours too. Amen.