See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4)
Despite the bass solo from Handel’s “The Messiah” running on a loop in my mind, I’m taking a closer look at this text from Malachi today. In the past, I have glossed over this passage as a prophecy about the Day of the LORD. But could it not also be about Jesus’incarnation? His “sudden” coming was not as many anticipated, but instead he arrived as a poor baby.
I have seen poor babies. Their vulnerability touches the deepest part of me. They stir compassion but also a connection with my own vulnerability. It seems to me that this is actually a refining, purifying process.
Seeing any baby, from any background, is arresting. They remind me that everyone begins his or her life this way. Babies often remind me what really matters,and other concerns can seem petty when I am captivated by a baby’s smallness and innocence. Maybe this is a reason the nativity of Jesus draws us in. God! Like this? Wow.
In the non-Advent/Christmas months, time spent in intentional awareness of God’s presence often conjures images of Jesus engaged various moments of ministry: healing,teaching, debating, showing compassion, feeding people, or just being himself. The more I learn of him—learn from him—the more my ambitions, greed, and pettiness are put in their place or redeemed to become “offerings of righteousness” (or “right offerings”) for him. The process involves not only repentance and purging, but also the cultivation of loving desires and a compassionate heart.
This takes time, and I am often impatient. But I am realizing that much of my spiritual growth these days comes not from conscious self-examination or intentional changes that I control. Instead, the changes happen mysteriously, almost passively, from exposing myself as openly as possible to God’s loving presence. And at this time of year, it happens when gazing at the Holy Child. “He shall purify”simply by letting me come close.