Preparation, repentance, purification, refinement, salvation, transformation: all these themes surface loud and clear in today’s readings.
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, 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 sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. 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
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ… And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:6,9-11
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’” Luke 3:1-6
I am continually struck by the fact that God in his mercy prepares his people and prepares the world for his comings. John came to shake things up and to point to the one who was coming. The Spirit has been poured out and is at work in us and “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God is at work in us, and today’s readings point to what he is up to: “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 sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.” This is God’s grace at work in us as God’s people. The Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer defines grace this way: Grace is God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.
In this season of Advent, God is at work in us. His favor is on display as he works in us to forgive our sins, change and deepen our thinking and the images we carry and that define us, move our hearts, and empower us to be obedient.
He is purifying us, but are we in a position of submission and surrender to his work in us? How is the Spirit calling you to change today that you might be prepared for the second coming of Jesus? What aspects of your thinking, your life, or your behavior is the Spirit drawing your attention to? One of the tasks of the Holy Sprit is conviction of sin. But we are not meant to be left in conviction and shame. The Spirit’s conviction is meant to motivate repentance, faith, obedience, and ultimately abundant life and salvation.
One aspect of Saint Paul’s life that fascinates me is how he did not allow his past life of hatred and violence to define him. When Jesus revealed himself as Messiah, Paul repented and became a man defined by the grace of God. He did not wallow in regret or shame or guilt; he wallowed in grace. The grace of God defined him and his ministry.
This Advent season, may we have eyes to see and ears to hear how the Spirit is longing to purify us and prepare us for the day of the Lord. May we pay particular attention to the Spirit’s work of conviction in our lives, but may we be defined by the grace of God and seek to actively participate in the transformational work of God in our lives. Amen.