There’s a Way
2nd Week of Advent
This advent season moves so quickly from week to week, that in the course of less than a month, we are asked to put the desires of our hearts in order. Are you getting your heart ready to receive Christ? Preparing your heart is a decision, but it’s also a process that takes a bit of time.
If a person wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, they don’t just wake up one day and say, ”I want to be a doctor (I want to be a lawyer)” and then begin practicing medicine or law. That decision would have determined what college they went to, and would have required years of commitment—to make it through years of getting ready. In other words, a person doesn’t become a professional on the day they decide to undertake a career in medicine or law. The decision about direction requires a process.
For any career, there are requirements that have to be met in order to enjoy the benefits of that decision. A career requires an investment of time and energy before it becomes a reality. So it is with matters of the heart.
Well today our spiritual preparation in mind and heart turns to themes in the scriptures of Malachi and Luke. First, let’s consider Malachi. Did you notice the seriousness of verse 2: Malachi wrote about God’s promise of salvation, “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? Last week you may remember that I was urging you into act with hope about the coming of the Lord because He brings salvation to us. You should lift up your head in confidence that God will bring your redemption.
Well, this week the prophet Malachi challenges our equilibrium again with his announcement of a blend of joy and at least a little bit of apprehension. First, there is joy (at God’s coming salvation), and then some apprehension (that we will be refined—as gold is refined in fire). When Malachi applies the metaphor of gold being refined to our minds and hearts, you may ask questions like, “What is meant by refining my life? What in my life needs refining?” I do not know where you are feeling the imperfections of sin in your life. But I think that we all have something somewhere that needs purifying.
How do you feel when you think of yourself being made pure? Do you welcome it? Are you a little afraid? I understand if you may feel a little conflicted—both open and a little nervous. Sin has to do with wounds—hurting another person and being wounded yourself. And those wounds need to heal. Of course you feel pain in your wounded places and healing is a process.
The message of Malachi isn’t for the purpose of leaving you frozen in your apprehension. No, the message of salvation is for moving us through sin into healing. No, it is a matter that your imperfections being found– your wrongs being confessed—God’s refining process releases you into joy, even jubilation.
I think sometimes we project onto God what we experience with human beings. With people, some things are out of our control; we may be able to affect some outcomes, and other times we cannot. With human beings, nothing is guaranteed. People sometimes turn out to be different than what we may have thought. But God’s promises do not disappoint. God’s promises are guaranteed.
My sisters and brothers, the joy is that God promises that we will be restored. It will happen, and it will happen under God’s control and in God’s time. The refining is not waiting for us to feel good about it, to be psyched up, to be ready for it to happen. God’s promise is coming; it is certain and sure, and it is GOOD news. As one preacher I know says, “We will be re-formed in God’s image, and it will be good– no matter how we feel about it at the present time, no matter what we are afraid of now. When we are refined and purified as God promises, it will be good!”
Look at the parents of John the Baptist—Zechariah and Elizabeth. God made a way for them where they thought there was no way. Elizabeth was old and they had no children. God made a way. If they were going to have security in their old age, if they were going to have a future, it would have to be NOT of their own devising. As my favorite preacher Willimon has said, children were the Near Eastern equivalent of our Social Security system. It was to these two older adults who were powerless to change their situation that God somehow made a way where there was no way.
John’s father, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. The Lord God be blessed; he has come to help and to deliver his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us from the house of David. He has brought salvation. He has shown mercy and remembered his covenant promises. He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies.
And this comes at a time when we most need it. Truth be told, we are not as competent as we would like to think. Even to those of us who are fairly secure, there comes a time when we need help, deliverance, salvation, mercy, rescue and guidance—all the godly gifts that are promised in Zechariah’s song.
We come to church wondering if we can find a way in our darkness, relying on our own capabilities. But we don’t know which steps to take next, or we’re at the end of our ropes, or gasping for air. Is there hope for tomorrow?
Now here, in Advent, we are met by a God who (according to Zechariah’s song) “helps, delivers, rescues, saves and guides.” We have help from outside ourselves. God is not only loving and caring, God is FOR US. Help is on the way. There is a way; it is God’s way! God not only loves us, God takes action for us.
God has given us Jesus Christ. We celebrate this now (on this very day) and on Christmas. So, today is the day to make a decision to open your heart and mind to Christ. The healing of sin-wounds is a process, and these weeks before Christmas, you can let the process of forgiveness, of healing– unfold in you. Help outside yourself is here. There is a way of letting go with God. There is delivery and guidance. God is loving and caring and the process is good. Thanks be to God.
Rev Ann Marie Winters
December 5, 2021