Are you ready?
It’s getting closer. The end of the Mayan calendar has caused so many to talk about the end of the world. They say it will be next Friday, Dec. 21. Of course, God said we wouldn’t know when — but we do know he’s coming. So it is important to ask if you’re ready. Are you?
Last week, we talked about Malachi’s prophecy of this coming of God, and all the things that stand in our way of being ready, all the things that make us unworthy to be in his presence. We heard his message and the message of John the Baptist that make us ready: “Repent.” Now he goes on and shows us how that repentance stuff has power, how it truly prepares us for his presence. Or to use Malachi’s words, it “purifies” us.
Read Malachi 3. He uses some pretty potent pictures to so vividly describe Jesus purifying and refining us. He talks about a launderer’s soap and a refiner’s fire used for the cleansing.
Truthfully, neither of those sound real pleasant for the thing being cleaned. The lye the launderer used was a corrosive alkanine substance that basically ate away the stain. The launderer used his tools of beating and striking the fabric, rubbing it against the hard washboard, twisting it and wringing it. Not much fun for the object, but that is what is needed to do the job.
And the refiner’s fire, well, that sounds even worse. But look at how he used it. Malachi writes, “He will be like a refiner’s fire... He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”
Jesus’ work with us works, and he purifies all the things we so often fall short on. He makes even the bad things that happen to us work out for our good. How? Because HE purifies all we do. He went through it himself first. He became one of us and worked that cleanliness so he has it to give to us.
You see, our Refiner didn’t just drop us into the fire and leave us. Our Refiner controls the fire, uses the fire, improves us by the fire. And by actually taking on himself the full fire of hell’s wrath on the cross, Jesus has effectively removed the fire of hell from our future. So He has changed the fires we go through here from scary to helpful, from destructive to refining.
Think of how he did that. More sacrificing than any firefighter ever could be, he entered our burning house to save us. And in order to do that, he had to remove his protective gear. He was God, immune to pain and suffering and death, but he removed that and walked right into our burning world and felt the pain of our guilt and shame and failures. He died in this fire of sin to rescue us. And just like a firefighter in a burning building needs the victim to realize the danger so he can help, God does the same for us. God sent his message and his messengers to make us realize our need, to make us see our Savior.
Right here in his word, he does that, and then, as
Malachi writes, “Suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty.” When Advent’s message of repentance prepares our hearts — we are ready to celebrate the Savior this season is all about. Jesus, the “messenger of the covenant,” came to fulfill that covenant — that promise of our Savior. He came to take our human place and pay our sin’s price. And he came to give us the gift we eternally desire — heaven — presence with God, absence of pain.
Now, of course, in the meantime, there will be wars and rumors of war; there will be lack of love and sickness and disease and hurt and pain and all the rest. Cars will be wrecked and houses lost, stuff destroyed. Jesus prophesied that the earth will shake and our stuff will be destroyed. And he’s always right. It’s just that now the hard stuff is used for our good.
That changes things. That actually strengthens us to be ready for the Advent — the coming of Jesus — in every way. So as you see and hear things that can get you worked up about these end times. When the busyness of December and the stress of the season threaten to take your peace — remember the truth.
There’s an old Peanut’s comic strip that shows Lucy stressing out about the world flooding. Linus reminds her of God’s promise of the rainbow, to which she responds, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind.” Then Linus says, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!”
Being reminded of God’s promises puts our hearts at rest. We can get so worked up so easily. Yes, 11:11 a.m. on Dec. 21, is coming soon; Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are right around the corner and all your parties and preparations fill the calendar — lots to stress about. So don’t neglect your time back here in God’s word and in his house where some sound theology can give you peace this holiday season. Malachi asked the question in the text, “Who can endure the coming of the
LORD?” Well, I can, and prepared by his word — so can you.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.