From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4)
We worship a God whose purpose for our lives is always more expansive and pervasive than we can imagine for ourselves. There is a sense in which we are never simply waiting for what we have been promised. God’s vision for us as individuals is always somehow connected to God’s love for creation. As a result, we never gain full insight into what God desires for our lives and how God might bring God’s desires to fruition. We can be certain of one thing: transformation into God’s image and God’s purpose requires that we pass through God’s refining fire. Being made whole is not a one-time deal; it is an ongoing process that continues until we are fully reconciled with Christ at his second coming. During our lives we experience intense trials that we can use to refine our spirits. The key idea to remember is that we pass “through” and do not remain in the fire.
There is a noteworthy difference between the fire that refines and the one that extinguishes or consumes. Refining is the process of removing impurities from a substance to increase its value. It is an exacting effort that requires constant attention from the one refining the metals. Certain metals cannot remain in the fire too long. Every substance has its limit if the value is to be sustained. Someone not in the business of refining would have no idea of the specific details if he merely watched a metalsmith at work. But the smith knows that the metal’s utmost value derives from shedding certain properties. The refining process gets to the intrinsic purity of a substance. It is a beautiful metaphor to liken God to a refiner who attends to our lives for the sake of helping us reach our authentic and most life-giving selves. During the process of refining and waiting, God watches us intently. God stays attentive and focused because the refining process necessitates such attention.
We may find it difficult to accept that we need refining, especially if everything in our lives looks perfect from the outside. In the heat of God’s refining fire, the things that hinder us from experiencing abundant life in God and community melt away. We can cooperate with God during the space, time, and means of refining; or we can resist and close ourselves off to what God has in store. Inherent in our seasons of silence, reflection, and waiting is an invitation to reflect on circumstances, habits, thought patterns, or ways of being in the world that keep us from believing in God’s endless possibilities and in our part in God’s work of reconciling the world to God.
God who refines and purifies, we give you thanks for your perfect timing even when we fail to understand it or to be patient. Teach us how to cooperate with your refining work in our lives. Remind us that our growth benefits ourselves and our communities. Amen.