Sunday sermon 29 November 2015 Advent 1 – Refiner’s fire

READINGS:   Malachi 3:1-6  Luke 3:1-6; Matthew 12:9-21

SERMON                                                                                                    

We have a local website and network called neighbourly. It’s a great tool. You can send out notices of events in specific areas around here, and people get a daily email with the key events.

Here’s an example recently – just before the last school holidays:

november29

If you can’t read that it says:

5 Top Posts

  • Mainly Music on Fridays at 10 am – come to BBP @ 45 Anzac Road, Browns Bay New
  • Browns Bay Family Home Cleaner Required New
  • Brown Chickens sighted on Browns Bay Road this morning 17Sep15 New
  • Update on Tsunami Warning New
  • National Warning issued by Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management- Tsunami: Marine and Beach Threat New

Do you see the odd thing about this email?

  • Mainly music – number one! All good really!
  • Then a cleaner needed – number two! Makes sense. They say cleanliness is close to godliness!
  • Then the lost brown chickens – number three! O dear. Sounds tragic really.
  • Then the last two are about the Tsunami coming! Bit late for mainly music, the cleaner and the chickens really – if the tsunami comes, well who cares. Unless you’re a duck, it’s all academic really.

Seriously – the last time there was a serious tsunami warning people went down to the beach front with picnic baskets for an afternoon’s entertainment!

It sounds just like the people in the time of Noah…. Or Lot. Have a look in Luke 17:

Luk 17:24  For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. Luk 17:25  But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Luk 17:26  “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. Luk 17:27  People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

Luk 17:28  “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. Luk 17:29  But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Luk 17:30  “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. Luk 17:31  On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Luk 17:32  Remember Lot’s wife!

You know the story of the boy in Sunday school who had to answer the question: what happened to Lot’s wife? He wrote – “she was a pillar of salt by day and a ball of fire at night”.

ARE YOU SERIOUS?

Are WE serious?

When we talk about Advent and being prepared for a major event or happening, it reminds me of our days in Wellington before the Christchurch earthquakes.

We were not that serious about having food and water stored up. I don’t think we had more than one torch and certainly nothing to cook on in the event of a long term power failure.

And that was despite having a number of serious shakes via quakes.

And so we bought our emergency kits after the fact – and then moved to Auckland where you need a boat when you get 12 hours warning of a volcano.

PREPARATION is a big deal.

So John the Baptist arrives. There is a serious pronouncement of an event here. And this is the announcement of the arrival of the one who would do the major announcement to follow. It’s the pre-alert if you like.

Luk 3:1  In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— Luk 3:2  during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.

There had been a silence for a long time. Nothing – heaven had been silent since the time of Malachi which was written so many hundreds of years before this (in about 430BC). God speaks to John – and through John to people about Jesus – and through Jesus the Word of God – to the world. Malachi warns us:

Malachi 3:1-4

Mal 3:1  “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.

THE LORD WILL COME SUDDENLY

The passage quickly turns to the actual event:

“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. Mal 3:2  But 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. Mal 3:3  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, Mal 3:4  and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”  

Advent is the event before the event. It’s about being ready for the celebration of the coming of Jesus. For us it’s the pre-Christmas bit.

I’ve been reading some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s advent sermons. The one was preached in 1930 in Cuba. Listen to what he says:  “But Advent is a serious matter too, and indeed a terribly serious matter. We are a strange people. As Advent comes around again, we will probably sing a few Christmas carols at home with our children, rush around to by all our gifts, write a few Christmas cards, and the when all the office parties are over, we shall enter the land of fun and laughter, the land of Christmas.”

He goes on to his sermon text from Deuteronomy 32: 48-52 about Moses dying before he reaches the Promised Land. Moses whose life’s journey and mission was to lead the people to that land. What a terrible unfulfilled hope and wish. God speaks to His man – to Moses, and tells him to go up to the Abarim mountain range, to die on the mountain, within sight of the promised land. Because of disobedience, unholiness and sin. Bonhoeffer says simply: Before the promise, the sinner must die. He puts it like this:

“He comes. Are you ready? There lies the shattering question with which the New Testament begins and ends, the only decisive question for the whole world and for the whole of our life. Are you ready for God?” (Christmas Sermons, 2005:p36).

John comes before Jesus. Repentance comes before good news. Advent before Christmas.

At Advent with all the horrible things happening around the world, our hope has to be realistic and not decorated with tinsel.

We need some cleaning up in our lives.

The Malachi reading is the powerful one. It features in Handel’s Messiah. I was listening to it again. I always marvel at the power of the human voices who sing the solo parts.

Would you like to listen to some of it? Of course they repeat the lines from Malachi again and again. Like a preacher repeating herself a lot – maybe because people are slow to hear or hear only what their itching ears want to hear! (Verse: 2Ti 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2Ti 4:3  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.)

Here it is. What amazing singing. Look out for the visuals about cleansing.

(The singers and musicians: Contralto: Hillary Summers; Bass: Alastair Miles; Orchestra: The Brandenburg Consort; Choir: Kings College Choir Cambridge).

The words are straight from Scripture – staring from Haggai 2:

  1. Accompagnato

Bass: Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts: Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come. (Haggai 2: 6-7)

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3: 1)

  1. Air

Alto or soprano: But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire. (Malachi 3: 2)

  1. Chorus

And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3: 3)

Lovely that they simply sing scripture!

So what about the Levites?

The priests.

Earlier in Malachi 1 we read: Mal 1:6  “A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

 And then: Mal 1:10  “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. Mal 1:11  My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

Malachi was obviously concerned about their shoddy work – their second rate offerings. ABout worship.

In chapter 2 he spells out how they had broken His covenant with Levi (2:8).

They offered him second best, and did not keep the covenant. (By grace – later in the NT when the deacons are elected so that the apostles can focus on preaching the word in Acts 6 we read: Act 6:7  So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.)

If there is anything that we are to be judged on – it’s our worship. And judgment begins with the household of God for us too (1 Peter 4:17).

Our offerings. Our passion for worship. Our total love for God. Or lack of it.And how we express it here especially – is this our very best?

Our hearts that become hardened – or indifferent – or locked onto other things.

Again and again Jesus reminds us. Again and again in Deuteronomy it comes up. It’s about all our heart. One quote from the gospels will do: Mar 12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

  • All this preparation at Advent.
  • All these activities.
  • All the preparation for Christmas too.
  • But are we really ready for his coming?

The one of whom it is said as we heard in Luke 3: “All mankind will see God’s salvation.” And in Matthew 11 today: “In his name the nations will put their hope.”

We also have a covenant – through our baptism. We are also committed to put God first.

But there is so much rubbish in our lives.

The refiner’s fire will cleanse us too. Renewal comes through testing and cleansing. And the word for ‘soap’ (borit) sounds quite similar to the word for “covenant” (berit). Ironically.

So in chapter 3 he says that God will come:

(Mal 3:1 …. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. Mal 3:2  But 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. Mal 3:3  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, al 3:4  and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. 

One writer put it like this:

“Like a refiner’s fire and cleansing soap, the arrival of Christ in our midst calls us to reverent obedience and faithful praise. The good news is indeed that we will not be left unchanged but will be reformed and refined to become like Christ. The prophet raises a challenge for each of us. As we proclaim Christ’s coming with Advent expectation, the promise of Christ’s arrival should prompt us to self-reflection and even make us uncomfortable. Are we ready?”   (Anne Stewart. Workingpreacher.org)

There is a danger that we are not ready. That we are chasing brown chickens on Browns Bay road when a tsunami is coming.

Amen.

 

 

 

Advertisements

About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on November 29, 2015, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: