Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Malachi 3: 1 – 4
The Coming Messenger
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. 2But 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; 3he 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.* 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Philippians 1: 3 – 11
Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians
I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Luke 3: 1- 6
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler* of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler* of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler* of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
As you can tell, the readings for Advent focus inevitably on the rather threatening sense of God’s arrival. I’m not sure about you, but most of us know that now slightly old-fashioned sense of trepidation when an important visitor is about to arrive.
My father in his younger days was promoted rapidly in a forestry company, and wherever we went he was the boss. However, every once in a while his superior would arrive on a visit. Such is the life of a multinational company. There is always someone above you in the chain of command. I think my father was more nervous than my mother on these occasions. She was at ease with anyone and would chat away intelligently on any topic under the sun.
My father was held in high esteem but nonetheless there was always a sense of trepidation as one never knew what new-fangled and sometimes economically crazy scheme Head Office would arrive with next, and Dad seemed to have his district chosen for experimentation. This was especially so when the head of research, Dr Beard, would be along for the ride. I remember one experiment, an attempt at growing castor oil. It didn’t last long. Another did, and that was the growing of Phormium tenax, otherwise known as New Zealand flax.
Now unlike the head office of my father’s company, God does not experiment with us. But there is always a sense of trepidation at the idea of a perfect God arriving in a fallen world.
You see, sin is not simply something we tend to fall into and that gets us offside in a legal sense: sin affects our character. It erodes the healthy beings God created us to be. It negatively affects our attitude towards God and so the thought of God pitching up can be a tad threatening, and Advent readings always reflect this sense.
I suppose what I am leading up to is this: judgement is something we instinctively fear for any of a number of three reasons, possibly the most common of which are:
- There is sin we are holding on to
- We have a misapprehension as to the nature of God, or are not fully aware of who we are in Christ
- We are not happy to be changed by Christ
The word judge in Hebrew is associated with deliverance. God’s judgement is designed to deliver us. It is profoundly loving. The end result of the coming of God in Jesus is that 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God as we read in our Gospel reading earlier.
You see God’s love is not a kind of product available to us, which we can apply to ourselves like a salve when we feel we need it. God and his love are not separate. The love of God comes with God himself.
And here’s the thing: God’s love changes us. As Paul says to the Philippians: 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
And as the prophet Malachi says, 2But 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; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi
So the Advent sense of trepidation is a wholesome one. It brings us up short. But God’s love is not like the visit of one’s boss that could result in good or bad, depending upon any number of factors.
God’s love takes us from the dangerous territory we may be in, and in leading us onto safer ground, equips us for changed circumstances.
My father had the ability to refuse changes to the core business of the forestry company he worked for, but he chose to go with growing New Zealand flax and it opened up a very successful side to the company’s business.
Sometimes we can’t see the cul-de-sacs sin leads us into. We certainly find it difficult to see how we need to change in order to receive the fullness of life God longs to impart to us. But opening ourselves up to the loving judgment of God is identical to making room for the love of God.
There’s that old saying about someone looking for love in all the wrong places. The advice we give our children is to look for the right people and we will find the right love.
It is exactly the same with God. When we prepare to meet the holy God (the righteous God), we find the loving God.
Human beings seek for love more even than they seek for meaning. Love is not a disembodied force – a drug we take to make us feel good or to solve our problems. Love is God, for as 1 John 4:8b tells us, God is love.
“What is asked of us,” Raymond John Baughan had said, “is that we break open our blocked caves and find each other. Nothing less will heal the anguished spirit or release the heart to act in love.”
How do I allow God’s love to permeate me?
Well, it’s no different from falling in love. When you first meet the person who is now your beloved, you may not be overly impressed with them. You may not have much in common with them. In fact, someone may have had to twist your arm to have anything to do with them at all.
But when you do meet them, and you don’t reject them outright, the potential for love remains.
The more time you spend with them, the more your attraction grows. The more you open yourself up to join in different activities with them, the more you see of them and the more you get to know them. Before long you realise you have feelings for the person, and if nurtured, they grow.
It’s no co-incidence that people who join home groups, who attend Alpha courses, who go on Christian camps, who involve themselves in a variety of ministries and activities in addition to simple attendance at services, grow in love for the Lord.
And that love begins to evidence itself in a supportive rather than critical attitude. In other words it begins to overflow as love towards other people.
I was speaking with Michael the other day and he said something that made me sit up and take notice. In referring to another parishioner he casually said, “He likes to use his talents.”
The person he was speaking about has a positive attitude and is a pleasure to be around. He is a person who busies himself in ministry and therefore has grown to love God more, and it shows in his relationships.
Is he perfect? No! But then neither were you or I when we fell in love.
Will he grow better? If he continues actively to serve God, yes. If not, no.
At Advent, God is looking to challenge the boring, suffocating, self-centred you and me. He is looking to bring out the best in us, to bring it to life. He wants to take us to places we have never been before.
8 The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes (he comes)
Leaping upon the mountains,
Skipping upon the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Behold, he stands behind our wall; (we wait)
He is looking through the windows,
Gazing through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke, and said to me:
“Rise up, my love, my fair one,
And come away. (he takes us somewhere)
11 For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove (love takes us to pleasant places)
Is heard in our land.
(Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13)
Do not condemn John the Baptist to being an eternal voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Come to the Christ he points towards, draw near to the one who comes to us, who, though born as a baby in Bethlehem, goes on through Galilee to Jerusalem and a cross that presented him with a love-test the bravest would have failed, a test he passed so that you and I could be enveloped in God’s love.
God bless you.
 Jan Karon, A Light in the Window (New York: Penguin, 1996), 82.[print_link]