Be Careful What You Ask For

Malachi 3:1-4 by Patrick Nafziger

It’s December, and here we are—looking forward to the cosmic drama unfolding before us.  Here we are, waiting as patiently as we can for the actors to take their places, waiting for the curtain to rise, waiting for the breaking in and bursting out of God’s reign in our lives and in our world.

We gather today in joyful anticipation, we gather together in this pregnant pause before the world is finally turned right, the high places lowered and the low places lifted up!

We wait, for we understand that our world is ripe for a new beginning.

So we wait with baited breath for the turning of the page, to start a new chapter in God’s story, a chapter in which God’s children from all walks of life begin to work, worship, and live in unity and in love.

We have a lot to look forward to, for God is coming to make things radically right!

*In the meantime, we will have parties and make cookies.

We will enjoy music and hang decorations.

We will go shopping and have fun with family and friends.

We will celebrate traditions both old and new.

All of this and more will happen in the meantime; while we wait.

And I’m guessing that many of us, especially the children, have ways of counting down the days until Christmas morning.

Maybe it’s a paper chain or an advent calendar, or even just crossing the days off one by one.

These are all ways we keep track of time, but they’re more than that, aren’t they?

These are all ways we have learned to build our anticipation.

At least, I know as I tore the links off of my paper chain as a child, my excitement grew as the chain got shorter and shorter until finally there were just two links left on Christmas eve.  My anticipation and my sense of expectation grew with every link that came down.

And I wonder if it was the same for you?

I wonder if you ever let yourself get lost in the wonder and the hope and the dream of the season?

Because if you did, and if you’re anything like me, then after a month or so of looking forward to Christmas and anticipating an almost magical experience…after all of the time and energy I spent dreaming about it and preparing myself for it…Christmas day always turned out to be just a little bit of a disappointment.  Do you know what I mean?

It was always fun…but it never quite lived up to the expectations I had as a child.

It never quite lived up to the hype.

Can you relate to that this morning?

It was something I looked forward to so much that my expectations could have only been satisfied by literally going on a sleigh-ride in the sky with the reindeer and taking a tour of Santa’s magical workshop at the north pole.

I’ll admit that Santa is the story that really got me at this time of year.

The biblical story about a baby in a manger and a bunch of kings following a star didn’t catch my imagination.  At least, not like Santa Claus did.

Can I say that in church?

My parents were good at stringing us along, letting us tell them what we wanted, patiently listening as we dreamed of all the big expensive things we could think of, the toys our friends had or the gadgets we saw on TV.

I remember looking through the toy section of my mom’s JCPenney catalogue, dreaming of action figures or a new bike or any number of other things that would make Christmas perfect.

They were good at letting us dream big…But more often than not, they would give us not what we wanted, but what they thought we needed.

So I would spend the month before Christmas dreaming of BB guns or sports equipment or cool expensive gadgets and toys…and then on Christmas morning we would get things like Socks, or Pants or a dress shirt.  J

And after we had opened all of our gifts and cleaned up the mess, then we got to try it all on and see how it fit!

You can probably imagine the joy we experienced on those blessed Christmas mornings!

But you know, looking back I’ve started to understand that the waiting was more important to me than Christmas Day ever could be… no matter what I did or didn’t get.

–The waiting is what defines us… it’s what shapes us.

–The waiting is what teaches us how to dream and how to bring others along in eager expectation.

–The waiting is where we learn to tell the story of our hope… and in the waiting and the telling of that story, change happens!

God speaks through the prophet Malachi this morning, talking about the end of the wait…He says,

I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,”

It’s like getting just what you want for Christmas, right?  It sounds like the wait will finally be over!

But we need to be careful what we ask for.

Malachi goes on, saying “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; [He will]  be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear the LORD.”

As with waiting for Christmas Day, our anticipation of God’s ‘bursting in’ means that we must prepare—we must get ready.

We must share in God’s radical agenda of bringing down what was high and lifting up what was low.

*We share in this agenda not by filling our time with endless activity, but rather in filling our lives with God’s light and goodness.

*We share in this agenda not by sharing wish lists of everything we want or think we need…but rather in sharing our hopes and dreams, sharing our vision of God’s kingdom breaking in and bursting out.

God is not interested in efficiency, in getting to point A or B as quickly as possible.

No, God is all about the long-game.  He’s all about the waiting.

I’ll be honest, and say that sometimes I get tired of hearing about how radical God’s agenda is, how complete the reversal will eventually be, bringing the high low and the low high, the first last and the last first.

Advent is a time of anticipation, I know…but it’s also a time of new beginnings as we look towards the new creation God is bringing about and fulfilling in our midst.

It’s so easy to lose sight of that.

It’s so easy to forget that how you wait determines who you become, you know?

All we have to do is open our eyes and look around, name what God is doing, name the hope to which He points!

As I got older and I started being more careful about what I asked for, I started to feel selfish sometimes.  In sharing my hopes and dreams with other people, I started hearing myself, and I didn’t always like what I heard.

Depending who I was talking with, my wish list started to sound superficial, cheap, and chintzy.

You know, I would talk to some of my farmer friends who wanted a new pair of work gloves or a good heavy coat…something they really needed and something that would give them warmth and protection as they went about their business on the farm.

Or I would hear about people who had nowhere to sleep when it got really cold.

I started to learn that some people really just want some peace and security for Christmas—things we are fortunate enough to take for granted every single day.

And suddenly I started hearing myself as if for the first time, listing my wants one toy and one distraction at a time.

And as I waited for Christmas with those people or those stories, I was changed as only waiting can change you.

Do you know what I’m talking about?  Have you had that experience, where suddenly you hear yourself talking, and you’re just a little bit embarrassed or even ashamed by what’s coming out of your mouth?

That’s the beauty of waiting—it allows us to change, to reconsider what we ask for!

I think that’s what God had in mind with all the waiting it seems He calls his church to do!

It allows us the opportunity to shape our lives closer and closer to God’s will.  It  gives us the chance to prepare offerings that Malachi describes as pleasing to the LORD.

Now, you may have noticed that this prophet has strong words for adulterers and perjurers, those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice.”

In short, he has strong words for those who “do not fear the LORD.”

But don’t forget, that it’s in the waiting where those who are adulterers and perjurers, those who defraud laborers of their wages, those who oppress the widows and the fatherless and deprive aliens of justice—it’s in the waiting that they—or is it we—can hear the good news and respond by changing course!

Friends, faith is a journey, not a destination and church is more like a sailboat than it is an island or a castle.

So as we wait this advent season, may we open our eyes and be willing to share our hope for the future, our hope for “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Will you pray the Lord’s Prayer with me this morning, using the word “sins” in place of ‘trespasses’…

“Our Father, Who Art in Heaven…”

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