Luke 3:1-6/ Luke 1:68-79/ Malachi 3:1-4
Prepare for the Peace of God
Have you watched Seinfeld on TV during the 90s? I haven’t. I discovered the show later and it became my favorite show, until I discovered Doctor Who, that is. Since Jerry Seinfeld was a stand-up comedian, before they started shooting in from of a studio audience, he would warm up the crowd with some stand-up comedy. Then they would be in a laughing mood when the shooting starts.
Same thing happens at famous singers’ concerts; there are less popular singers opening the show and preparing the audience for the main event. By the time the big star comes out, the audience will already be warmed up to fully enjoy the show.
The same principle was applied when the Israelites were waiting for the Messiah; there would be a messenger who comes beforehand and prepare God’s people.
Today, we read in the Book of Malachi that God was sending a messenger. It’s like in the old days, when a messenger would go ahead of their kings or queens to announce their coming, so their subjects would be ready (by bathing, preparing clean and presentable clothes, clean the houses or streets, preparing a feast, and so on).
Cleanliness is generally important in preparing for important people or events. We wouldn’t accept guests without a shower, clean clothes, or a clean house.
The same principle is at work when we prepare for spiritual things. Spiritual purification is important; that is why we go through the Season of Lent with spiritual activities such as prayer, fasting, and acts of charity. Advent is also a time for spiritual purification since it is a season of waiting in hope.
Malachi gives two analogies for purification: refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap. A fuller’s job was to cleanse and whiten clothes. A refiner’s job was to use heat to extract silver or gold from ores. These are both analogies of God’s people being spiritually cleansed and renewed.
John the Baptist
When John the Baptist was born, his father Zechariah spoke of God’s mercy for saving God’s people and professed that his son would be God’s messenger and lead his people back to God. According to verse 79, he would “guide our feet into the way of peace”, indicating that the purpose of the coming Messiah was to create a world of peace. That is why Jesus Christ is also called the Prince of Peace.
Now after all those fanfares of prophesies and announcements, in Luke chapter 3, we finally meet this “messenger.” What does John do as God’s messenger? He preaches a message of repentance and offers a baptism of repentance.
Jewish people always had a cleansing ritual involving water, but it was through the esoteric desert people that the ritual of spiritual cleansing became prominent. Scholars believe that John the Baptist and Jesus had both belonged to one of those desert communities. Those people were, to put it nicely, a very interesting group of people, and to quote regular people, CRAZY. But the gist is that they were minority religious communities (sect or cult) and the ancestors of Christianity. They lived out in the desert away from Jerusalem, away from the mainstream Judaism, and spent all their time trying to stay spiritually pure and judging all those who do not belong to their groups to eternal punishments.
Since they were our theological ancestors, now some of us Christians do the same thing. Just in case you have ever wondered why some (or many) Christians are so narrow-minded and judgmental, THIS is why. We had narrow-minded and judgmental theological ancestors!
Anyway, what we learn from John the Baptist is that we cannot receive the Messiah without a spiritual preparation, which starts with repentance. None of us is perfect and we make mistakes. We also fall away from God from time to time, even those of us who are of the highest spirituality. Through the act of repentance, we reflect on our wrongdoings and shortcomings. It teaches us that we could and should do better as God’s children.
Preparing for the Birth of Jesus
We are in the Season of Advent, and we wait for Christmas once again. As we cannot receive an important guest without bathing, cleaning, and putting on presentable clothes, we cannot receive the Christ baby without preparing our spirits.
John preached a message of repentance, and we should do that regularly too, but during Advent, I invite you to reflect on what the nativity stories and the Gospel of Jesus are about, the lessons they teach.
Jesus Came for Peace and Justice
The Prince of Peace came to proclaim God’s reign of peace on earth, and since there is no true peace without justice, it means we fight for justice and serve the marginalized and the oppressed of our society.
The beginning of our involvement in this ministry that Jesus started is understanding that God doesn’t want some to dominate and others to suffer. This is not only the meaning of Christmas, but also the essence of the theology that the Holy baby would grow up to teach. This baby came to live and die for God’s reign of peace and justice.
Therefore, on this second Sunday in Advent, I urge you; let us listen to the stories of Jesus as if it were our first time. Jesus was born among and for the lowly people of the society. While listening to the nativity stories, let us feel God’s sadness, love, and empowerment for the marginalized.
Also, let us renew ourselves and our commitment to follow Jesus. Let us serve and fight for God’s suffering people, our local and global siblings; for that is what Jesus did and would do. May the peace of Christ be with us and influence us to work for peace.
Let us end today’s message with a song titled Refiner’s Fire. The words go like this:
Purify my heart. Let me be as gold and precious silver. Purify my heart. Let me be as gold, pure gold. Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy, set apart for You, Lord. I choose to be holy, set apart for You, my Master, Ready to do Your will. Purify my heart. Cleanse me from within and make me holy. Purify my heart. Cleanse me from my sin deep within.