Monday, November 28, 2005
A Meditation for Advent
It's curious - not merely from a historical perspective (yes, yes...I know why and how Christmas came to be fixed in late December) - that the season in which we celebrate the coming of the Refiner's Fire into the world would be the coldest of the four.
As is so often the case in the modern-day church, we have been quick to eliminate the drama and the sheer scale of Christ from our day-to-day "church business", in order to make Him easier to wrap our minds around. As such, the arrival of the God of the universe in the form of a tiny baby has been rendered in such precious and tiny terms that it fairly removes the weight of the thing nearly altogether. An event that should, by all rights, engender awe and dribbling, sputtering gratitude now simply elicits warm fuzzies. Of course, it wasn't always so; In Malachi, we read the words of the prophet, as he describes the coming of the Messiah in stark and somewhat frightening terms -
1"Behold, I send My messenger,- Malachi 3:1-7 (NKJV)Similarly, in the Gospel of Matthew, we read the bold words of John the Baptist as he prepares the way for Christ's coming:
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,"
Says the LORD of hosts.
2"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 launderers' soap.
3He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver;
He will purify the sons of Levi,
And purge them as gold and silver,
That they may offer to the LORD
An offering in righteousness.
4"Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem
Will be pleasant to the LORD,
As in the days of old,
As in former years.
5And I will come near you for judgment;
I will be a swift witness
Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans,
And against those who turn away an alien—
Because they do not fear Me,"
Says the LORD of hosts.
6"For I am the LORD, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
7Yet from the days of your fathers
You have gone away from My ordinances
And have not kept them.
Return to Me, and I will return to you,"
Says the LORD of hosts.
1In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:- Matthew 3:1-12 (NKJV)And so, in a season filled with images of Santa, reindeer, gifts beneath glittering trees, and fluffy snowflakes drifting lazily to earth, our hearts are summoned into the presence of the Creator of the universe...the Word made flesh, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid to rest - first in a putrid stable, and then in a cold tomb. We are called to dwell upon the startling reality of consequence; the arrival of this tiny baby has forever altered the course of human history, thrown open the door to Heaven itself, and has ushered all who are willing to "give what they cannot keep, to gain what they cannot lose" into the court of God Himself. How we should quake...how this gift should drive us to our knees at its grandeur, its wholly titanic nature, and most significantly, its joyfulness. We can never, on our own, be worthy to stand before the refining fire of the Lord's presence. As Handel echoed through his Messiah, "who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears?" And yet, He has seen fit to embrace us, and lift us to our feet.
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make His paths straight.'"[a]
4Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.[b] 12His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Splitting time and space, and rending forever the curtain of sin and death that was thrown across Creation upon Adam's fall, one tiny baby - at once human and still the eternal God - sleeping in a feeding trough, crushed beneath His heel all the machinations of Satan and his twisted legion. God became man, and mankind, in turn, has been restored to fellowship with its Father.
These quiet, cold days provide ample opportunity for us, if we're only willing; willing to ponder, as Mary did, the things that have occurred. If we focus on Christ, and on His coming, we see clearly the unstoppable momentum of an act of indescribable redemption that began so humbly, and has simply gained strength as it has rolled across this hurting world. If we're able to pull our focus from the transient joys of this wonderful time of year, we are drawn to a gratitude, and a fellowship that is simply eternal, and if we will only seek His face, we are rewarded for our efforts by the certainty of the Savior's touch as He cradles our very hearts, lifts our burdens, and washes over us with pure, unfettered and untainted joy.
The peace of the newly fallen snow is merely a reflection of the stillness of Creation as it awaits the triumphant return of its author, and in that return, all that is transient, corrupt, and fallible will be blasted away in the Refiner's fire, just as it was when He first came - sent to a mere girl in a filthy stable, hunted by a twisted king, and born to suffer at the hands of His most beloved creation. The fire of His love for us burns just as intently now as it did then, and neither the coldest day of winter, nor the deepest despair of this fallen world can quench the fire that ignited with Jesus' arrival. And now, as we begin to prepare our hearts to celebrate His arrival, we can see that the fire burns on the horizon, and it is coming ever more near.
32"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. 34It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. 35Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning — 36lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 37And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" - Mark 13:32-36 (NKJV)