Get Ready

Written by Katie Phillips, Pastor, Vine Church, Dunn Loring, VA

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Malachi 3:1-4 (CEB)

Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
        suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
        The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
Who can endure the day of his coming?
        Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
        He will purify the Levites
            and refine them like gold and silver.
            They will belong to the Lord,
                presenting a righteous offering.
The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
        as in ancient days and in former years.

_______________

I rarely think about the cleanliness of the baseboards in my home. But when I do – it’s because company is coming over.

Or the faint cobwebs inside a lampshade? They just somehow go unnoticed in my home until I’m sitting with a visitor – and thinking quietly about how I should have swiffered the insides and the outsides of things.

The fervor that happens in the hour or two before guests arrive to my home stands in stark contrast to the cool way I try to welcome people into a home that surely doesn’t normally look the way they are experiencing it.

Preparation for guests – especially important guests – requires a bit of thought, a bit of time, a bit of elbow grease for me. (This may not be the case for you – as you stay in a constant state of cleanliness and order. Well done! Let’s hang out at your house the next time we get together, cool?) The notion of how we get ready – and for whom – is an interesting one for us this Lenten season.

The prophet Malachi is inviting us to consider an interesting question – one that is for all of us who are living not only aware of God’s presence with us – but expectantly for the fullness of God’s Kingdom come.

Are we ready?

Malachi tells us that “suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come.” The messenger is on the way. Are we ready? Can we be ready?

The prophet asks, “who can be?” or “who can endure?” Because the one whom we are waiting for is in the business of refining – of reorienting and reshaping in a way that improves upon what is. Malachi offers a whole series of metaphors for the work of cleaning up that’s coming – and none of them sound pleasant or easy to me: refiner’s fire, fullers’ soap, purifying silver. These processes are offered for things that are of value – ways for precious metals to be revealed, for fabric to be flawless, for a radiance and polish to be evident.

The imagery calls me to both delight and fear. It is comforting to know that I’m of enough value to be refined – but worrisome to imagine the process! The elbow grease that it’s going to take to shine me up is going to require something of me in the exchange, I fear.

For Malachi, the direct context was the rededication of the temple and the restoration of a displaced people. There is a crisis of food, of structure, of tradition, of stability, of power. As we read the larger work we recognize an all too familiar contention between people, a rift in community. Can God’s promise hold? Can God’s goodness make it through to the people and can the cries of the people make it through to God?

Our context may not feel much removed. We recognize the spaces where refinement is needed — as individuals, as community, as parts of larger systems that fail to be just or loving.

And yet it’s right there.

It’s right here.

In the midst of a mess — a messenger arrives reminding us that the problems of the human condition don’t need to be barriers between us and God. A transformation is at hand – and it comes through a Messiah who restores us to God and to one another.

The Good News of Jesus Christ invites us to a refining that comes not as a function of judgment or punishment – but an extraordinary act of love demonstrated through invitation, service, and the very real presence of the Living God. We’re offered a refining grace poured out as a gift.

Through Jesus Christ, we – like the priests (Levites) mentioned in Malachi – are restored to God fully able to make an offering of our very selves to the continued work of building God’s Kingdom here and now. Our flaws, our inconsistencies, and even our baseboards are transformed from being barriers between us and others – spaces of shame and embarrassment – and instead can be tools of reconciliation and hope.

We belong to the Lord, a pleasing offering, invited to see ourselves as God sees us – and to see others through the Refiners eyes as well. Restored. Graciously viewed. Welcome to the holiest of spaces. Cleansed. Swiffered – inside & out.

A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

Find all entries from A Voice in the Wilderness online here: haymarketchurch.org/lent24