Malachi 3:1-4 A Forgiveness Endured December 9, 2012
I don’t know if I’ve told you this before or not, but Christine and I are suckers for Christmas movies… the corny-er the better!
It’s not uncommon at this time of year, to find us if we have some free time, sitting down to enjoy a B-level Christmas movie with a predictable plot, bad acting, and a happy ending.
It puts us in the holiday mood I guess.
Now, these Christmas movies, they usually fall into one of two general categories.
First, there’s the romantic comedy type of Christmas movie, where the setting is an awkward family gathering during the holidays, and the main character is forced to introduce their boyfriend or their girlfriend to the family for the first time.
The particular stresses of the holiday season usually lead to a breakdown of one kind or another, old family wounds are torn open and long-buried grudges resurface to make the holiday thoroughly awkward and comically disastrous.
So, I like those movies, but they’re a little too much like real life. 🙂
My favorite Christmas movies anymore involve Santa Claus and elves, or magical worlds where animals talk. These movies usually open with the main character not believing in Santa Claus, and having a bad attitude towards the Christmas season.
Then, throughout the movie, they endure a series of events that calls their unbelief into question. By the end of the movie, they’ve been transformed, and the world they live in is feeling the effects of their conversion. For example, they’re generous if they were stingy.
Typically, by the end of one of these movies, the main character has come to believe in Santa Claus (or in my favorite movie, he actually becomes Santa Claus), and they’ve been transformed in a way that reaches out and affects all the lives of the people who they have interacted with.
The main message is simple and clear…Belief makes all the difference.
And that’s a nice Christmas message, isn’t it?
The world will change, things will work out for the best, everything will be OK if we just believe the unbelievable!
Our culture distinguishes very little between the unbelievability of the North Pole and the unbelievability of the Resurrection. Both serve as nice, quaint decorations at this time of year.
December is the month when “Belief” becomes a tricky subject, because it dresses up in plastic and tinsel, and sparkles and shines like something new.
In many ways, belief is never easier than it is in December; when it’s being sold like a commodity.
We talk about belief, and we could mean simple facts like the world is round, or we could mean deeper truths like believing in Jesus, or God, or the Holy Spirit.
Or we could talk about belief, and be referring to a cultural icon like Santa Claus.
So belief is easy…and this time of year cheapens it in a way, because there’s no distinction made between belief in Santa, belief in yourself or others, and belief in God.
So I say, belief is easy.
It’s far more challenging to take our ‘beliefs’ seriously…to ask of them the difficult questions that beliefs are meant to handle.
It’s the living in response to what we believe; taking our beliefs and the beliefs of other people seriously; that’s the hard part.
So Malachi comes to us today, and he gives us this picture of a God who comes with fire in one hand and soap in the other.
And we might not think that’s such a fitting image at this, the hap-happiest time of the year.
We’re filling our time with cookies, tinsel, and pine.
Our nativity scenes are laid out nice and clean beside our plastic Santas, across the room from the Christmas tree standing watch over the presents we’ve bought for people we ‘believe’ in.
-This hardly seems the time for a message of fire and soap.-
And yet that’s exactly what we’ve got. Fire for refining, and soap for cleansing.
And I know we’ve heard this message of before; that we’ve all got dirty secrets we try to hide, that we need to be cleaned up; purified; refined; scrubbed clean in order to be found fit for service in the kingdom of God.
And I know that everything about that message is true; we do all have dirty secrets that we need to come clean of before a Holy and Righteous God.
And it’s true, that the refining and the scrubbing; these are painful processes to go through, such that they are meant to be endured, not enjoyed.
It’s true, that we all carry wounds.
We all carry grudges.
We all carry misunderstandings, wounded ways of living and relating to the other people in our lives, and we approach our family gatherings and company parties burdened with the gunk and grime that comes from living.
And most of us have been invited to get cleaned up a hundred times if we’ve been invited to get cleaned up once. Then another season of life goes by, and the same resentments and wounds and hurt feelings begin to coat our souls anew with a gritty film of bitterness and anger.
No matter how much gloss we put on the Christmas season, no matter how much tinsel we string up, our lives are still filled with junk.
The way Still needs to be prepared in the wilderness of our inner landscape.
Our mountains of Pride need to be leveled. Our valleys of despair need to be filled.
And so God comes with fire and soap…just as God came with fire and soap.
But not just any fire or soap.
He comes with a refiner’s fire, and a fuller’s soap.
And what’s interesting about this particular kind of fire, and this particular kind of soap, is that they both take skill to use properly. They’re both tools of a skilled craftsman.
Someone who is skilled at the art of creation.
See, precious metals, like silver…when they’re mined, or when they need to be used for something different than what they had been used for, you might have a very little bit of silver, mixed in with a whole lot of dirt and grime and maybe lead, or iron, or other minerals that are of less value.
And it’s not just that those things need to be burned away; it’s that they have to be separated out from the silver in order to make the silver worth using.
The end result of the process is a lump. I think they actually call it a “pig” of metal.
(so I guess we could say God is turning us into a bunch of pigs!)
It’s not a useful object. It’s just a lump of material that’s ready to be worked with.
Likewise with this “fuller’s soap”.
I know in the NIV, this verse is simply translated as a “launderer’s soap”…but in other translations, the word we have there is a “fuller”.
And it’s interesting, the process that’s being referred to hear; it’s more than just making something clean that has gotten dirty, like we might think about washing a pair of blue jeans or something like that.
Fulling is actually the process that Wool goes through soon after it’s been sheared.
It cleans it, yes, but it goes much deeper than that, too…it’s actually how cloth is made!
There are two processes that a fuller used to use in order to prepare cloth in ancient times.
Scouring and Thickening.
Scouring involved using certain chemicals to wash the wool and even bleach it white. They started out long ago by using stale human urine; something about the salts in urine helped to bleach the fibers as they scoured it.
Thankfully, in future years they learned how to do the same thing with a particular kind of clay that’s called “fuller’s earth”, and they eventually developed a really harsh lye-based soap that does the same thing.
That’s the scouring, they would also “thicken” the wool, by pounding it together with their hands or feet, or maybe with a wooden paddle type thing.
The point is, whether we’re talking fire or soap, these are tools that take skill to use.
Not everyone can use them correctly.
And at the end of the day with both processes, all you have to show for your work is material that’s ready to be worked with further! On their own, a bolt of cloth or a ‘pig’ of silver; both items are almost useless because they haven’t yet taken a useful form.
But at the same time, in that state…the potential within them is beyond measure!
The mind of the Craftsman is the only limit to what they can become!
So even here in Malachi, we get a picture of a God who is fundamentally Creative, even when he comes as a Judge! The point of judgment is not punishment; it is redemption!
The message I want to give you this morning is that we can join with God in the act of Creation every single day!
Yes; our lives are filled with impurity and brokenness and even shame.
Yes; we are sinful people in need of redemption, and we war within ourselves with the forces of Good and Evil.
But in the hands of a creative and highly skilled God, we are also being transformed into something far more useful than mere flesh and blood…even when we can barely stand the process. Even when it’s a forgiveness we must endure.
I read a book recently that suggested that being creative in some way is the antidote to
Cynicism. The author basically says that we each have creative gifts, and the desire to create in some way (which makes sense to me since we’re created in the image of a creative God).
And so, he suggests that when we don’t create, we’re actually stifling that part of us, and it comes out then through cynicism towards the people who are being creative!
I had to think of Christine’s challenge from a couple weeks ago, to hold our tongues when we want to talk negatively about the people around us.
I wondered if maybe it would be easier to do if we joined with God by using our creative gifts more often when we’re tempted to snark.
So that’s my challenge as we keep moving towards Christmas, if you’re ready for another one so soon. 🙂
Be creative for the next week or two.
When you’re tempted to tear down, try building something up.
When the tension inside yourself rises to a fever pitch, go get by yourself and create in the way that only you can do. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a baker, bake. If you run, or read, or Stamp or scrapbook or make music or make things out of wood; do it!
I have a hunch that when we fill our time creatively, God is delighting with us, and there’s that much less time that we’re being cynical or negative, right?
It’s in the act of creation that we can stand with the God who comes with fire and soap, ready and willing to scour and refine not for our punishment, but because He is fundamentally creative and sees in us the limitless potential of what we can become!
Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!