Tuesday, December 6th. Malachi 3:1-4

“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.” Malachi 3:1-4


Refining.  Let’s think about that word this morning.


Malachi tells us that a messenger will prepare the way for the arrival of the “Lord whom you seek.”  Malachi writes out of a long tradition that anticipates the great “Day of the Lord” as a time when God will appear in fearsome majesty to right all the wrongs of the world, to punish the evil doers, to vindicate the righteous, and to set up shop in a glorious earthly temple.


That sense of the “Great Day of the Lord” would have been as strongly rooted in the memory banks of Malachi’s readers as the image of John the Baptizer dressed like a biker, doing church on the banks of the Jordan, is in ours.


What holds those two images together is the idea of the “refiner’s fire.”


We have a lot of refineries down here in Houston.  There is a highway just east of town that is lined with refineries.  Every time I drive down that highway I feel sorry for those who work there and those who live there.  Plainly said, it is stinky.  The air is heavy with fumes.  The refineries themselves look like beehives of steel tubing, erector sets of chemical doom.


So I drive by, eager to get past it all, and then it usually occurs to me that I wouldn’t be driving by were it not for the work of those refineries.  The gasoline in my engine came from the processes I’m looking at on the side of the road.


In other words, refining isn’t an end in itself but a means to an end.


Imagine “refining” as “re-fine-ing”.  What does that say?


When gold is refined, it is usually heated up to a liquid.  What isn’t gold is burned off or separates from the gold.  Adding soda ash and borax speeds up the process.  “Fine” gold is separated from what is not gold. 


So it is that God comes to us.  God sees something fine in us that we have long lost sight of, something fine that has been buried, or contaminated, or broken.  The heat that God applies to our lives is love.  Relentless, accepting, justifying, saving love.  Love that will not let us go.


Such refining can certainly be a stinky process.  Witness an alcoholic in the earliest stages of recovery, for the first time coming to terms with the reality of their lives, returning again and again to rooms where they are welcomed with open arms and given the promise that life will get better as they work with others and take certain steps.


Witness a person of faith, returning again and again to the promises of their baptism, courageously facing areas of their lives where they have kept God out, surrendering again and again to God’s will when their own has run them into a brick wall.


Re-fine-ing.  Re-find-ing.  Rediscovery.  Redemption.  Resurrection. 


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, refine us.  Burn away our hypocrisy, our selfishness, our fears, all that separates us from you and from one another.  Refine us, restore us, that we might be about the work of living life to the fullest and being a blessing in the lives of others.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


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