Rev. Karl Reko
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. (Malachi 3:1-3)
It’s almost impossible to hear these words of Malachi without hearing George Frideric Handel’s stern, if not ominous, melody from the Messiah in the background. Being refined is not a pleasant prospect. As we go along, we often fall into spending a lot of time and much energy trying to improve, to become more and more pure. We usually don’t enjoy the process.
And yet, our greatest longing is to stand in purity before the One who made and sustains us. Malachi states our greatest need by saying the Creator’s messenger is the one “whom you seek.” The covenant bringer is the one “in whom you delight.” During Advent, we look forward to the day of his coming at Christmas in a longing mood ending in the celebratory day of Christmas.
And then, God’s Old Testament surprise of a coming messenger with a new covenant is ruined. If he is like a refiner’s fire, “who can endure the day of his coming?” We answer, “we can’t” because we can’t survive the refining and have no hope of coming out of it with purity.
But the surprise isn’t over. Luther equates our Lord’s coming with the exchange that occurs in a marriage. Everything that belongs to the groom now belongs to the bride and everything of the bride’s is now possessed by the groom.
In the new covenant, our Lord takes us and makes us his own. All of our imperfections, our tiring and vain pursuit of perfection now belongs to him who took it as his own on the cross. And by that same event our Lord’s perfection now is ours, and we are viewed as purified in the Father’s sight. We have been reclaimed, remade, refined.
Most of us don’t like to experience a lot of surprises. This is one that we can’t get enough of.
Good and loving God, our Refiner. Thank you for surprising us by making us pure. Let our acts of refinement no longer be self-justifying attempts to purify ourselves, but grateful lives rejoicing in the joy of your salvation. Through your Son, the Messenger of Your new covenant. Amen