Advent Week Two {fire & fury}

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me…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… {Malachi 3:1-2}

When I was a boy, if I left the house with a dirty face, my mom would seize me before I exited the car. She would lick her thumb and scrub my grubby cheeks until they shined. I don’t know which I hated worse – the wet finger or how my mom could (as any good mom can) scrub down to the bone. She met my protests with a smile and a renewed tenaciousness. “If you’d clean yourself” she’d say, “then I won’t have to.” She made her point. I now wash my face each morning.

My mom had one other standard trick (is there a book somewhere with a list of such things?): soap for washing the filthy or sassy mouth. Best I remember, I never received the oral suds, though it’s entirely possible I’ve blocked it from my consciousness. I do recall the threat, and I do have a vague recollection of my sister’s ordeal at the bathroom sink. Only last week, I channeled my mother and suggested to Miska that we whip out a bar of Dial. I’ve only got a little more convincing to do.

When we think of Christ’s coming – Christ’s adventing – we often consider only the warm manger glow, the angelic carols, the hope and goodwill to all, the merry Christmas everyone. We consider only the delights. This is all most appropriate, as the prophet Malachi reminds us that the messenger who comes is one who indeed is our delight. Still, the prophet’s next question stops us short: who can endure the day of his coming? who can stand when he appears?

The prophet Malachi sets the coming Messiah as one who, not unlike an obdurate mother, arrives to cleanse with kindness and fury.

When the King comes, the King burns with fire. The Holy One washes the world with a cleansing deluge. This is a gracious terror. The Christ child comes in tenderness, but true tenderness can not allow evil to wreck us. Love could never be so feeble. Love must do what Isaiah promised, what St. Luke echoed – love must make the crooked things straight.

Who can stand when the Son of God appears in all splendor and blazing glory? None of us. And yet – each of us, surrounded by the unrelenting love of God. For┬áthe end, says Luke, is that all flesh will see God’s salvation.


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