Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Prepare to be Purified” based on Malachi 3:1-4 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, December 9, 2018
Advent can be a difficult season of the Church Year to celebrate. You may have your Christmas tree already up. The stores have been advertising their Christmas specials for weeks already. The music you listen to, whether in the car on the way to work or at home as you decorate for the season and wrap gifts, is all about the baby boy born in Bethlehem. For much of this season, you find yourself looking forward to celebrating something that already happened two thousand years ago. That paradox, in and of itself, can make this season somewhat confusing to celebrate. But it even goes deeper than that, doesn’t it?
It can be a healthy, faith-focused journey to the Christ’ cradle when you put yourself in the sandals of God’s Old Testament people. It can be soul-searching to discover the hope and anticipation that those people experienced when they considered and prayed about the coming Messiah. But, ultimately, your journey is different. You already know that he did come, when he came, and what he did when he came. It’s like watching a movie to which you already know the ending. It can be good and worthwhile, but it is different and, therefore, a little difficult.
See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then 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.
With the eyes of faith, and two thousand years of history, it is clear to see that the promised messenger, who would prepare the way before God, is John the Baptist. No need to look any further than the Gospel appointed for today. He is the voice calling in the desert, who prepared the way.
And then, of course, it isn’t surprising to discover that the messenger of the covenant, the Lord they were seeking, who came so suddenly after John the Baptist, is the Messiah, himself, Jesus Christ.
God’s Old Testament people were waiting for those two men to arrive. It consumed their thoughts and prayers. The simple idea and promise of their impending arrival gave comfort to their sorrows and peace to their troubled hearts. And, yet, their arrival didn’t actually happen for another four centuries after these words were written.
It may not have been lesson one in Peace through Jesus or your Sunday School lessons, but you didn’t have to wait years, let alone centuries, to have Jesus and John the Baptist revealed to you.
So, in this Advent season, how do you celebrate a prophecy like this? How are you, in the words of the prophet, prepared for John and Jesus’ arrival?
To be sure, it is good and beneficial to study again and remind yourself of just how John and Jesus fulfilled these prophecies. It’s good because, well, sometimes you just forget. But, it’s also good because whenever you spend time in God’s Word, meditating and searching and growing in your spiritual knowledge, it will strengthen your faith.
It is good to be reminded that Jesus is indeed the messenger of the covenant. He came not only to tell you of the deal and agreement that your God has made with his people, but to be the basis of it. Rather than simply blessing the people who do good, in and because of Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death of substitution, God gives you everything that is his without expecting anything from you.
It is good to remember that Jesus accomplished that covenant by refining and purifying you, again, without any action from you. He took on himself the impurities of your sin, removing them from you, and experienced, in his suffering and death, the pain and price for them that you deserved.
But, brothers and sisters, as you look at that analogy, that metaphorical explanation of how Jesus washed and cleansed you, do you see how it limps a little?
When silver is refined and clothes are laundered, does the refiner or the launderer feel any pain? Not if they are doing their job properly! The silver and the soiled linens, if they had feelings, would most assuredly feel the pain of the fire and the lye. They are what get burned. They are on the receiving end of the chemical reaction. And, yet, when Jesus is described as refining and purifying you, he is not only the refiner and the purifier, who should feel no pain, but the fire and the soap, himself, as well and, therefore, should be the one inflicting the pain, not experiencing it.
Yes, taking this illustration in that way does indeed remind you of what the baby boy born in Bethlehem came here on earth to do for you. That is good and beneficial for you as you prepare to celebrate Christmas.
But here, friends, is the beauty of the Advent season. You are not only looking forward to the cradle of Christ, but, also, to when he arrives on the earth again. And, in clear prophecy, Malachi portrays what needs to be done to prepare you for that coming, as well.
You are purified. You are washed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus and you are going to heaven. And, yet, like a three year old who sees a puddle, the temptations of this world continue to seem so alluring and, so often, the robe of righteousness that you wear is covered again and again with the filth offered by the Devil, this world, and your own sinful nature and you need to be kept clean.
That is why Advent can be not just a difficult, but even a painful, season of the Church Year to celebrate. Advent reminds you that, like the silver and the soiled linens, you have, indeed, felt the fire in your life.
What has been burned off of you? What stain, that was so deeply rooted in your fibers, has been scrubbed away from you?
Was it that job that you thought you would not be able to survive without? Was it a relationship in which you found so much fulfillment? Did you lose that loved one that was your rock? Did your lungs, your heart, or your central nervous system; those basic fundamental functioning facets of your life fail you?
Your God, through the prophet, is not minimalizing the pain you experienced in losing those things. In fact, for many reasons, those may have even been beneficial for you in your life and blessings bestowed upon you by your God. But, in all truth, you did not and you do not need them.
In working what is best for you and keeping you and your faith pure and primarily focused on him, your God has allowed the fire and the lye to burn, but, as in all things, he did so for your good.
And, almost as if to put salt in your wound, the prophet explains how you are to react to that pain of purifying preparation that you experience. After you see it, recognize it, and remember it, you ought to offer him a sacrifice because of it.
You may be familiar with some of the offerings that were to be sacrificed in the Old Testament. The Passover Lamb, slaughtered and eaten. The beasts of burden that were butchered. The goats and lambs whose blood was sprinkled in the holy of holies and showered over the people with the hyssop plant. Those sacrifices, in many ways, were sacrifices of substitution. Their death was to remind God’s people of the death they deserved because of their sin.
However, that is not the type of offering that the prophet is preaching about in these verses. Rather, looking at the purification you have gone through; what has been done to you and what has been removed from you, you then ought to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. A joyful response, coming from a happy heart, because of that purification.
That happiness and joy in this Advent season comes not because you are a masochist who enjoys the pain, but because you know from where and why that pain has come. Your God loves you and wants you to be with him, forever. He wants you to be refined, pure, clean, and holy. Celebrate this Advent season by preparing for Jesus’ arrival. Prepare yourselves, then, to be purified and offer your sacrificial hymns and prayers in thanksgiving because of it. Amen.