- From the Jewish Scriptures: Malachi 3:1-4
- Responsive Reading: Luke 1:68-79 (p. 900 in Voices United)
- From the Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
- 1 O Come O Come Emmanuel (verses 1,3,5,7)
- It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (insert)
- 20 On Jordan’s Bank
- 9 People Look East *NEW*
The SErmon title is Wake up, Wash up!
Early Thoughts: Every year in Advent we talk about a very strange man. He is a cousin of Jesus, born just a few months before Jesus. His name is John, but we usually refer to him as John the Baptist.
The story of John's miraculous birth appears in the first chapter of Luke (this week's responsive reading is the song John's father Zechariah sings when he is born). The next time we see him he appears in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. THe early Christian writers looked at the stories about John and looked at the prophetic books where it talked about a messenger who would come to prepare the way for the Messiah. John, it appeared to them, must be that messenger. And so, as we prepare for Christmas we hear stories about John and his preaching.
John's preaching (found in Luke 3, as well as the other Gospels) was anything but comfortable. He preached repentance with a capital R. He calls his listeners a brood of vipers and warns them about wheat being separated from chaff, with the chaff then being destroyed. John apparently saw his mission being to convict the people of their sin. And in this he stood in a long tradition.
The prophets of Jewish Scripture quite often call the people to account for their behaviour. In fact, it can easily be argued that this calling to account was their main raison d'etre, not foretelling the future (it is only in looking back that people said "Hey, they were predicting what is happening now"). And they did this out of love, love of God and because of God's love for the people. God calls us to account so that we can change our behaviour. GOd sends messengers to remind us how we can do better not so we can avoid some future punishment but because God wants us to grow. As we once again prepare for God to break into our world it seems appropriate that we should spend some time talking about repentance--a word which really means to change directions.
This weeks reading from Malachi is another example of the prophetic voice calling the people to be changed. Here the prophet speaks about God's people being cleansed by refining fire or fuller's soap. When metal is being refined it is put into a blast furnace so that any impurities can be burned away. THe prophet is reminding us that God can remove our impurities and turn God's people into gold and silver.
When I was in youth group as a teen one of the songs we often sang was called Refiner's Fire. It made made use of this imagery, saying:
Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silverAre we willing to be woken up to how we need to change and how we need to help change our world? Are we willing to let ourselves be washed with fuller's soap? Are we ready to be refined? These are the questions Malachi and John ask us. Being woken and washed is part of the life of faith, they are a part of what happens when God is active in our lives. And so, they are a part of our preparing for the coming of Emmanuel, God-made-flesh.
Purify my heart, let me be as gold, pure gold
Re-finer's fire My heart's one desire
is to be holy set apart for You Lord.
I choose to be holy set apart for you my master,
ready to do your will.
Purify my heart, cleanse me from within and make me holy.
Purify my heart, cleanse me from my sin, deep within