Lectionary: Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6
Let us pray:
Lord, prepare the way for your coming. Prepare our hearts and our world. Speak truth to us, that we may see you coming. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Prepare the Way
A few weeks ago I saw this video online, a clip from The Ellen DeGeneres Show where Ellen and her wife Portia played the Not-So-Newlywed game with Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone. Each couple was asked questions about their spouses to see how well they knew each other to see if they could get the same answers to the questions.
The first question was to Melissa McCarthy: “If Ben could describe you in one word, what would it be?” She answered, “Chatty.”; he answered, “Lovely and amazing.” Then they asked Ben what word Melissa would use to describe him; he answered, “Good enough,” and she answered, “Kind.”
I was so struck by those answers. When talking about how they viewed their spouses, both of them said wonderful things about each other, that they were kind and amazing. But when they tried to imagine how their spouse thought of them, they weren’t nearly as kind or loving to themselves: “chatty” is a neutral quality at best, and “good enough” says, ‘I could be better, and she could’ve found someone way better than me.’ Even after having been married ten years, they both loved their spouses but weren’t sure they were as lovable as they found their spouse.
I’m not trying to throw Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone under the bus. I think most of our close relationships are like this–our marriages, our friendships, our relationships with our family. No matter how much we love the other person, no matter how much we can say all these wonderful things about them and point to all their best qualities, and mean every word, we still are so often convinced that we’re not as lovable as they are, sometimes even that we’re making their life worse. We, after all, have a front-row seat to our own issues, our own mess and sin and pain.
That is one of the joys of Advent. We look forward to the time when God will come and straighten every crooked path, flatten every obstacle, whiten every stain, remove every impurity. We look to Christ’s coming as the source of our ultimate peace and joy and salvation.
That, too, is one of the serious, frightening parts of Advent. As Malachi says, “But who can endure the day of his [the Lord’s] coming, and who can stand when he appears?
“For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” Refiner’s fire, that is, fire stoked to an unbearable heat so that impurities can be separated from useful metals. And fuller’s soap was soap used to clean and bleach cloth, something harsh and unforgiving like lye. Meeting God’s judgment, then, is as survivable as a bleach bath or a 2000º fire.
Except that God doesn’t just throw us into the fire and walk away. Malachi says God “will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver.” God is the one who will do the work. God is the one who will step into the place of the refiner of metals, work that was so dirty and dangerous and uncomfortable that it was performed only by slaves. God is the one who is willing to step into that place, for us, a place full of sweltering heat and the dangerous chemicals that come from the heated metal and the constant threat of being burned.
God is the one who works with the lye and bleach to cleanse us, who makes sure the garment is clean but not destroyed.
And as Luke says, God is the one who makes ways straight and flattens the mountains that are impossible obstacles.
Alone, against all these forces, we cannot stand. But God stands with us. God enters into the mess of our lives and our sin; God comes, ready to create a road where there was none, and to do so one foot at a time, one paving stone at a time.
We may prepare for Christ’s coming during Advent, but God is also preparing. God is working in us and in our world, cleansing and healing.
Alleluia, and Amen.