I am sending you my messenger, to prepare the way before me…the messenger 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 refiners fire and like fullers soap: he will sit like 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.
I don’t know about you but when I think of the word refined, I think of class and grace. I think of elegant. I think of white crisply starched shirts and suit jackets buttoned just so. I think of impeccable manners and ram rod posture. I want you to know I have never been accused of being refined. And you are not surprised. But maybe I should be. Because of my first impression of the word refined is actually the 2nd definition of it. The first definition is to have unwanted elements and or impurities removed. And that’s part of my job right? To afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I suspect I do the first part of that better than the 2nd. But the role of both aspects is to help everyone be more of who God calls us to be. And we are in Advent. A time in which we prepare our hearts and lives for the coming of the Jesus. We prepare and wait and watch for that something new that God is going to do in the world. It happens every year. But I suspect we miss it. And we miss that new thing because we rushed to Christmas. We want the wise men and the baby Jesus and we want it all right now. We rush to Christmas. We don’t take the time to properly prepare our hearts to receive Jesus. We try to stuff him in there with everything else we carry and there is little room for Jesus. And the Jesus that we carry is therefore a little Jesus. We haven’t given him enough room to grow in our lives or the world. I love it when people complain about what God is letting happen in the world. I love it when people say I don’t have time for God. What has he done for me lately? Besides given you life and breath and letting you be born in a first world country where you have access to health care and education, where you get to take for granted electricity and clean drinking water, not much. Besides giving you free will to thank God for all of that or not, to spread the good news of God’s grace or not, to be gracious and more of who God calls you to be, or to be a jerk. Besides all of that, nothing. See, I am more afflict the comfortable than comfort the afflicted…..I joke here, but I am also serious. Our God comes new, each and every year and we have become so anesthetized and our faith so domesticated that we don’t see the miracle of it all because it is so familiar. I am kinda tired of all of the doomsayers about American Christianity. I am tired of the strain that this paroxysm is causing to this congregation and to other congregations that I know and love. It is painful. At the same time I believe it is a healthy re-direction. Just like when the financial markets correct gross excesses and we have an economic recession, I think something similar is happening here in American Christianity. It has become something it was never meant to be. And we have become weak people of faith. We have made the radical message of Jesus into something comfortable and easy. And so we need to be refined and purified in order to remember who and whose we are. As I mentioned last week, the liturgical color for Advent is Purple, not red or green. It is purple because it is a season of repentance. Christmas joy is supposed to happen at Christmas and into the new year not before. It is supposed to be a time of reflection, not busyness. A time to think about what it would mean if we made room for something different to happen, made room for God to grow up in our lives. What would that take for you? What do you need to let go of in order to make room for God? What do you need to commit to? You know sometimes I am jealous of our Muslim friends. There are 5 pillars in Islam and one of them is praying the shahada 5 times a day. They pray 5 times a day. It is hard for a Muslim to forget who and who’s they are is they pray 5 times a day. I am almost jealous. It’s one of their commandments. A second commandment or pillar is tithing 10 percent of their income. That is part of the reason these folks were able to buy this building. They take that seriously. I was telling Ijaz and Obed and Fermina that there is a hospital in South Texas that is run by Christian priests and Pastors that offers to care to everyone without asking if they can pay or asking if they are in this country legally. The reality is many of the families they serve are split families in that some members are legal and some are not. The parents are afraid to seek medical attention because scrutiny would physically split the families up. This facility is funded almost entirely by Muslims. They need a place to give charity to, they know what discrimination feels like and they don’t want to send money overseas because the federal government is scrutinizing every single transaction to Aid groups overseas. Folks here in mainstream Christian churches give what they have left after they have bought everything else they want. They take the church for granted and expect others to keep it going. We have become too comfortable. We need to be refined and purified. Christmas was not supposed to be a feel good movie we watch once a year for a month. It was and is a call to a radical newness. So I ask you, I ask all of us, what do you need to let go of in order to make room for God to grow in your heart? What needs to go? Is it fear? Is it a habit of shopping for things you don’t really need? It is comfort? What is it for you? Is it spiritual laziness? Not wanting to be bothered with going to a small group or a Bible study? Is it “we always do it this way?” I mean, it’s trite but true. What would Jesus do? What did the early followers do? What did the shepherds do? What would it take for you to hear this good news with new ears? To see this marvelous God being born yet again, with new eyes? What are you blind to, or deaf to? What would it take for you to want to be in the presence of someone who refines you, who removes the impurities and unnecessary things? The answers I suspect will be different for all of us, yet similar. I don’t know about you, but I really want God to grow up in my life. I yearn to make room for that. What do you yearn for? More of the same? Or something different. And before I forget, please read and fill out the insert in your program. If you really yearn to do a particular type of ministry, if there is a small group you really want, if there is something you always wanted to know about the Bible, or the UCC, please write it down and give it to me. I am collecting these for when we move. In the meantime, I want to encourage all of us to wait, to watch, to let go of whatever keeps us from being open to the radical newness that is born again. Don’t rush Christmas. Prepare your hearts so when Christmas comes, in 3 weeks, of 4 months, your eyes will recognize it. Prepare your hearts that whenever God does a new thing you are awake to it in wonder and gratitude. Make it be so for all of us. Amen.