Sweetwater Presbyterian

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Advent: The Refiners Fire

Advent: A Refiners Fire

Advent marks the beginning of a new church year and begins four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. During this season, the church prepares for the coming of Christ. While we make ready for the baby to be born in Bethlehem, this season is also designed to help us think beyond the birth and even beyond the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, to that time of expectancy when the Day of Christ will appear, when Jesus will return and the reign of God will begin over a new heaven and a new earth. Our waiting in anticipation during Advent in many ways is practice for our time of waiting when Jesus will return in all his glory, when the trumpets will blast and all eyes will look heavenward to see Jesus.
During Advent, familiar people and familiar stories return to our lives as we are awakened out of that long season of Ordinary Time - it is time to get ready; it is time to think of new possibilities; it is time begin to consider the hope and peace and joy and love that are associated with this season. It is time to prepare for the one who can make that hope and peace and joy and love a reality in our lives right now, in this life. Advent is so much more than just listening to the stories of Mary and Joseph and shepherds and angels, Advent is about anticipating the coming of the savior of the world - and how that affects our life. Advent is not just a time to sing Christmas Carols but to really consider what this time is all about and why God planned tings the way he did and what effect that has on us and the world around us.
Advent is not a time for passive waiting and watching. It is a time of opening up our lives to the call to “Get Ready”, “Prepare” for the newborn King is on his way.
And who better to jolt us out of our complacency than John the Baptist. We usually don’t think about John the Baptist as being part of the Christmas Story because John’s story takes place when Jesus is grown and is getting ready to begin his ministry. But the reason John is always included in the Advent story is because his message typifies the idea of the Advent.
About 30 years after the birth of Jesus, John appears one day on the banks of the Jordan River, a few miles from Jerusalem, and he begins to preach - “Prepare the way of the Lord!” . In Chapter 3, Matthew tells us that John’s message was
11 ‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’
Now I don’t know about you, but those words are pretty scary and don’t sound much like our Christmas story with a cute little baby, and angels and shepherds and peaceful nights….. In the ways of John the Baptist the coming of the Christ is something that strikes people with ‘fear and trembling’. In Malachi, the coming of the Messiah is called a ‘great and dreadful day” But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver - ever think of Christmas as a ‘dreadful day’ - not dreadful in the sense that you are worried you haven’t gotten everything done; all the presents bought and wrapped, all the decorations up, Christmas Cards sent, food gathered and prepared— but a dreadful day when you are under the threat of being put in a refiner’s fire!
Now a refiner’s fire is not a fire like a forest fire that burns everything in its path. A refiner’s fire is a fire that uses bellows to pump oxygen into the fire when makes the fire get as hot as possible, then the silver melts and the impurities rise to the top where they are skimmed off and thrown away. What is left is pure refined silver.
This doesn’t sound like a very comfortable process. Being heated up to 1700 degrees and melted and then having something scraped off doesn’t sound very pleasant and if this is what Advent is all


about then I don’t think I’d be too happy about this season. But that is how this anticipation, this waiting is presented to us as we understand what scripture teaches.
“Prepare yourselves” John the Baptist says, “Get ready for the coming of the Messiah because he is going to be like the refiner’s fire and we are going to be like the silver…” Makes you kind of wonder about Advent - We just want to decorate and light candles and sing Christmas Carols and go shopping… And then John the Baptist erupts into our lives and tells us to approach this Messiah with fear and trembling; prepare yourself because you are about to be refined like silver - the great and dreadful day of the Lord is coming!
Malachi not only says that we will refined like silver, but we will be scrubbed with lye soap. I don’t know whether you have been scrubbed with lye soap, but it is a very uncomfortable experience!
I had a grandmother who was obsessed with cleanliness. When I would go to her house, I admit I would get dirty. I’d play down by the river and in the dirt up behind her house and at the end of the day she would put me in this really hot water in a claw foot bath tub and get out her bar of lye soap and this old bristle scrub brush and she would scrub the dirt off and at least the top two layers of skin - or that is what it felt like. I dreaded that time in the bathtub.
Prepare the way of the Lord - and what that means is that we are to be refined in the fire; we are to be scrubbed down and then you will be ready for the coming of the Lord.
The idea of Advent is being the idea of being prepared, being made ready, and not just for the coming of the Lord on Christmas, but the purpose of Advent is to make us think about that time when the Jesus will come again - that time we call “The Second Coming”. When Jesus will come back and declare his Kingdom here on earth for ever and for ever. The passage we read form Matthew earlier speaks of this time when Christ will come again. Jesus warns that this day will take the whole world by surprise. As in Noah’s time, people will be going about their everyday business - eating and drinking, marrying and having families, working and playing with no awareness of God’s impending judgment Jesus says they will be like a house owner who fails to anticipate when the burglar is going to break in. Jesus says that not even the angels or even Jesus himself knows when this coming Day of the Lord is going to happen but we should be prepared. Because Jesus says, those who are prepared will be saved and those who are not will be perish.
Remember that the birth of the Messiah, 2000 years ago, was just as much a surprise to the people as Jesus talks about the time when he will return. 2000 years ago God’s people weren’t ready - even though they had all the information they needed to recognize the coming of the baby Jesus, even thought they had been anticipating this event since the time of Moses, they had become complacent and lax in their relationship with God and that is why, according to John the Baptist, they were unable to recognize the Messiah when he arrived.
And how are we prepared? By submitting to the refiners fire and allowing God to scrub us down with lye soap; by realizing that Advent is not about sitting back and just waiting, but about dedicating ourselves to work with God to allow him to get us ready. Our life with Christ is all about transformation; of allowing ourselves to be transformed to become more Christlike. And it isn’t easy; it takes fire and lye soap as God removes the impurities in our lives and scrubs us down to rid ourselves of our selfishness. That is what Advent is to be - a time to make up our mind to allow ourselves be transformed.
We are all on a journey. A journey to be more like Christ; to grow in our understanding of who God calls us to be as his children; of learning what it means to be a witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ showered upon us. This process is not going to happen on its own. It is not going to happen by us just sitting back and waiting; of anticipating its happening. It takes a refiners fire; it takes a scrubbing down, it takes a time of hearing and listening and preparation - preparation of our very selves just like we prepare our homes and our sanctuaries for the coming of the Messiah at Christmas.
Advent is a new beginning and new beginnings are good times for us to start. So in anticipation of the coming of Jesus, let’s truly own those words of John the Baptist - let us Prepare for the coming of the Lord because if we prepare; if we work on getting ourselves ready then it won’t be a day to fear; it won’t be a dreaded day - but a day where we can truly experience the hope, peace , joy and love of the Messiah.