REFINE – 12/9/19 – Pastor Donna Doutt
Just recently, my husband got a set of hearing aids. He wasn’t very happy about it, but I was! I thought it would be a great relief not to have to repeat everything two or three times. I usually have to speak once to make him aware that I am actually speaking to him, the second time around to repeat what I said originally to get his attention, and then sometimes, a third time because he didn’t understand what I said the second time!
However, my bubble has been burst, because in the two weeks that he’s had them, he’s only worn them twice. It’s frustrating to repeat and repeat.
But that’s what our scripture today is all about. God is speaking but people are not listening!
We have three major prophets, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and twelve (what we call) “minor” prophets. It’s not that they’re less important. Every one of them brought a message worth hearing. But the minor prophets were short books of the Old Testament.
Since he is a “minor” prophet, we don’t often preach from Malachi. And while the name of Malachi may seem familiar to you, I’ll bet there’s no one in this sanctuary that’s ever done a study on Malachi. If you have, put up your hand!
Malachi is the last book of the Bible before we enter the New Testament. It’s a quick read also because it’s only 4 chapters. The name “Malachi” means “my messenger.” And the main concern of his prophetic message is all about the internal life of the community.
The people in Malachi’s community to whom he was bringing this message are people who were waiting for God to tell them when the Messiah was coming. They thought that event would occur in their lifetime…and yet we are still here waiting…aren’t we?
And we saw throughout the Old Testament…over and over again… that while they waited, they began to wander from the path of God. Here, in this last Old Testament book, Malachi warns that that God is upset…once again…with the Jews. Sins are creeping into their culture. They’re bringing defective sacrifices as offerings, priests are looking the other way, they’re not tithing, and they’re cheating their employees and oppressing the poor and helpless. These people had made a covenant with God, and it’s breaking apart as time goes by.
Both of our scriptures, Malachi from the Old Testament and Luke from the Gospels are about the prophesy of the Messiah. Both of them are telling us that we’re waiting for our Messiah to come, but I think we’d be missing the point if I didn’t bring to your attention that they’re also about a judgement.
In our scripture from Malachi, we see that he’s not beating the Jews over the head with a verbal club. He’s offering them a carrot. If they honor him by truly presenting the 10% tithe, God will bless them for their obedience. The scripture says, “He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes. He’ll scrub the Levite priests clean, refine them like gold and silver, until they’re fit for God, fit to present offerings of righteousness. Then, and only then, will Judah and Jerusalem be fit and pleasing to God, as they used to be in the years long ago.” Our Father God will refine and purify us to live a life of worth in His name.
As prophesied in Isaiah, God would send a messenger before Jesus to prepare the way And we see that same message repeated in Mark 1:2–3, “ 1-3 The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Watch closely: I’m sending my preacher ahead of you;
He’ll make the road smooth for you.
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!”
Which brings us to our Luke scripture today. This messenger was John the Baptist. You know John the Baptist, Jesus cousin, qualified as Jesus’ advance man too by preaching about repentance and by introducing Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He prophesied to us that Jesus Christ, the son of God, will refine and purify us to live a life of worth in God’s name too.
“Upon Jesus’ long awaited arrival, talk swept across the land. Is this really the Son of God? Is this the promised One? Is He the Savior of the world? Imagine the hopeful but cautious buzz in the air. Is it God in the flesh? The Savior of the world whom God promised to our forefathers? The people came to John with great expectation, and he consistently pointed them to Jesus (Luke 3:15–16).
John’s encounter with Jesus humbled him. Later in John’s ministry, people came to him questioning Christ’s authority, and he responded with: ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:28–30).”The presence of Jesus before John— His glory, righteousness, power, kindness, care, love, forgiveness— caused him to believe in someone greater than himself. It refined and purified him.
If you remember your Bible stories, John had met Jesus before. His first run-in with Jesus was a womb-to-womb encounter. After the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would bear the Son of God, Jesus (Luke 1:31–32), Mary went to visit Elizabeth. In Elizabeth’s barrenness, God had reached down and also blessed her with a son, John (vv. 7–17).
As Mary and Elizabeth greeted one another, Elizabeth’s baby (John) leaped for joy in her womb. What a moment! The Holy Spirit fell upon Elizabeth and revealed to her that Mary’s baby was the Lord Jesus Christ, and the unborn baby celebrated. John’s “womb” encounter with Jesus filled him with joy. What an exciting emotion! It’s one filled with great happiness and pleasure. It’s one we all long for. And, as Scripture reminds us, Jesus is the joy of our salvation.
When the angel of the Lord pronounced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, the heavenly being announced, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Joy because Jesus, the long awaited Savior, is here. Joy because Jesus reconciles us back to God. Joy because His salvation is for all people. Jesus is the fulfillment of our joy. John’s womb encounter with Jesus filled John with the very same joy. A joy that was not there before—the kind that lasts forever despite any hardships. And when John grew up, it moved him to prepare the way for Jesus.
With their adult encounter at the time of Jesus baptism by John the Baptist, the presence of Jesus— His glory, righteousness, power, kindness, care, love, forgiveness— humbled John and caused him to believe in someone greater than himself. He was also refined and purified by Jesus the Christ.
As we progress through this season of Advent, let’s keep our ears open to hear the message that God is bringing us. We have no earthly prophets imploring us to be kinder, more humane, less judgmental, and to love and care for one another.
Our world seems to be in a tumble of distress. We have political turmoil, natural disasters, economic inequality, international dangers and threats. I believe our world is crying out for something good, but they’re not hearing that the goodness and salvation has arrived in the form of Jesus Christ, the savior. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all lived like Jesus?
Have you heard the Good News? Our Father God expects us to be kinder, more human, less judgmental, and to love and care for one another. If we are made in his image, let us live up to His expectations for us. Let us lead by His example. After all, He gave his only Son for us.
Let’s receive this gift from our heavenly Father, this gift that purifies and refines us. Let’s rejoice in the Good News that this birth brings.
Let us pray:
You sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation.
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may celebrate aright the commemoration of the nativity,
and may await with joy the coming in glory of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever. Amen.