Luke 3:1-6 - Malachi 3:1-4
Rev. Rhonda Kouterick - December 6, 2015
Our Gospel reading begins the 3rd chapter of Luke. It explains how John the Baptist fulfills the role of the
one prophesied about (circa 750 BCE) in the OT by Isaiah, 300 yrs or so earlier. The one who would be the forerunner - the one preparing the way for the Messiah, who would show us the way, one foot at a time, down the path
of PEACE. Read Luke 3:1-6
In the next to the last chapter of the last book in the OT we read of the coming of the Lord and his
messenger; one who will set things to rights, clean things up, so that the Lord God is pleased. Read Malachi 3:1-4
A few brief words of reflection about this one. Who will be like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap, one who
refines like fire and cleans like strong soap – in getting us ready, helping us be able to stand before our maker?
And that got me thinking: We all go through times of testing, as individuals, as families, as believers, even
as nations and civilizations. Whether the tests are directed our way, or whether they come as part our being human,
no one can say for certain. Whichever way it is, times of testing and refining happen. They are part of life. Such
times show what we’re made of – help us know ourselves. Do we buckle at the first sign of difficulty? Do we run
away from a challenge? Can we sort out what’s negotiable and what’s not? What plumb line do we measure by?
Now, Malachi is talking about more than sifting, more than separating wheat from chaff, he’s talking about
gold and silver – a refiner’s fire. He’s talking fuller’s soap not a Dove bar or Ivory soap. Fire and soap to clean us
up and get us ready to stand before our maker. It takes a lot sometimes to get out the stains, to burn away the
dross. For instance, stains in a tablecloth – they can be pretty stubborn. The helpful hint book says – scalding hot
water poured from a height through the stain stretched over a bucket. Or how about stains in men’s white cotton
socks, grass stains in the knees of kid’s light colored pants.
As a little kid, my Mom showed me how she rubbed soap on the stained sock, worked the fabric in her
hands against itself and then on the scrub board. She gave me a little washboard and bar of soap to do my doll
clothes on; it was fun until the day I got hold of the Fels Naptha soap and scrubbed the skin right off my knuckles.
Strong, strong soap, potash and lye – the kind that gets the worst stains out. You can draw your own parallels
between the action of soap on stains and the action of grace on the stains of sin. Sometimes God needs some pretty
strong soap!
As for the refiner’s fire – many of us have watched a blacksmith at work heating the iron red hot, pounding
it into shape, but the process of refining gold and silver has even more to it. In Malachi 3:3 where it says God
“will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver”
the story is told of the leader of a women’s Bible–study group; how she resolved to find out more about the
passage by visiting a silversmith. When she asked him about it, he replied, “Why don’t you watch me at
work?” She observed how the silversmith held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that
in refining silver, it is essential to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames are hottest, so as to burn
away all impurities. She asked the silversmith if it were true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole
time the silver was being refined. The man answered “Yes”. Not only did he have to sit there holding the silver,
he also had to keep his eye on it the entire time. If the silver was left in the flames just a moment too long, it could
be damaged beyond repair. She realized then the attention needed to be a refiner of silver and what good news that
is for those going through various trials in life.
Thanking the silversmith for his time, the woman made to leave, but he called her back. “There’s one thing
you didn’t ask,” he said. “You didn’t ask how I know the process of purifying is complete. I know it is finished
when I can see my own image reflected in the silver.” When Christ the Messiah sees his own image reflected in
his people, he knows the work of purifying has been accomplished.
As this Advent season has begun, we’ve been looking for signs of HOPE; we’ve talked about wanting
PEACE as well. We find ourselves in the midst of testing, held in a refiner’s fire, so the question becomes not
what are they going to do?, but what am I going to do? What choices will we make? Will our choices reflect Jesus
and let his light shine? Let us pray.