Sunday, December 27, 2015


Luke 2:41-52
December 27, 2015

            My two oldest nephews loved to watch the movie, Home Alone, when they were little. My nephew, Jordan, especially loved it because he really liked “the traps.” I have vivid memories of Jordan and my dad sitting on the sofa together with a bowl of popcorn between them watching Home Alone and laughing and laughing.
            Just in case you know nothing about this movie, it tells the story of a little boy named Kevin who was accidentally left home alone over Christmas. His large extended family was taking a trip to Paris for the holidays and in the shuffle of wrangling so many kids and adults into airport shuttles and onto a plane, Kevin got left behind. When the rest of the family finally makes it safely on the airplane, Kevin’s mom keeps thinking that she forgot something. But she can’t figure out what. After the plane takes off and is ascending to cruising altitude, Kevin’s mother suddenly sits up from her seat and screams, “Kevin!” In the meantime Kevin is home alone but holding his own. He manages to reunite a cantankerous old neighbor with his estranged son, and fend off robbers who discover that this little kid is home and unsupervised. They think that this house will be an easy target, but they’ve never met a kid like Kevin before. That’s where the traps come in.
            In order for this story to be plausible you have to believe that an entire family could leave home, board a plane for another country and forget one of their children. Although I think the movie is funny, before I had children I couldn’t imagine anyone forgetting their child. Then I became a mom. It’s not that I have forgotten my children somewhere, but losing a kid in a crowded mall or even outside in the backyard happens. I know.
            I know and because I know, I can relate to the panic and fear Mary and Joseph must have felt in today’s gospel story.  This is a story unique to Luke, and it is the only story we have in our canon of Jesus as a child. While Kevin in Home Alone was eight, Jesus was twelve. According to Jewish custom, twelve was still a child, but Jesus was on the cusp of manhood so he should have known enough not to get separated from his parents. As implied in the text, Mary and Joseph were devout Jews and they made the trip to Jerusalem to Passover as religious law required.  It was about a three day trip on foot.  They would have traveled in a large company of extended family and fellow sojourners.  So when they headed for home, I can see how they would have thought Jesus was with other family members. I suspect that the idea of “it takes a village to raise a child” was more than just a nice saying at that time. So even if they weren’t minding Jesus, they certainly believed another person in their group was. What a terrible shock to go and look for him only to discover that he was nowhere to be found. Nowhere! Everyone thought he was with someone else. I don’t care who you are or in what period of time you live, when your child is missing, you’re terrified. Mary and Joseph would have felt the same sick feeling of fear and panic that any of us would feel if our child went missing. Jesus was gone. So they turned around and headed back the way they came. Indeed they retraced their steps all the way back to Jerusalem. They searched for three days. Three days! Finally they found him in the temple sitting with the rabbis. Not only was he listening to and questioning the teachers around him, he was amazing them with his wisdom and understanding. 
            Can you imagine the absolute relief Mary and Joseph felt when they saw him sitting there? Oh thank heavens, he’s safe! After their panic subsided, can you also imagine the anger they felt when they saw him sitting there? 
Mary’s first words to her son were much calmer and far more restrained than mine would have been.
“Child, why have you treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  Jesus responds, “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
They didn’t understand the meaning or point of his words, but he goes back to Nazareth with them and obeys them from that point on. 
            Once when I was a teenager, my mother asked me where I was going and I said, “Out.”  I don’t recall her exact reply, but it was definitely not an affirmation of my independence. What would she have said had she and my dad been looking for me for three days and I had responded as Jesus did.  “Why were you searching for me?”
            I realize that the title of my sermon is a bit misleading. Jesus wasn’t a teenager in this story. Teenagers as we understand them didn’t exist then. But do I hear a bit of adolescent tone in his voice? In the past when I have preached sermons on this passage, my answer has been, “Absolutely not!” Jesus was not being a smart alec teen. He was not sassing his parents. He was just being who he was. He was just being Jesus, the Son of God.
            But why wouldn’t he have been giving them attitude? Why wouldn’t Jesus have been acting and thinking and speaking as an adolescent? He was human. He was probably well into puberty. Even though children then may not have acted like the teenagers we know – and love – they were still teenagers. They were still trying to figure out what it meant to become adults. They were still making that rather rocky transition from childhood to adulthood. Was Jesus any different?
            Here’s the thing: when it comes to Jesus’ humanity, we embrace him as being born a baby and we cling tightly to his human death on a cross in his 30’s. Yet when it comes to that time in between, maybe we are a little bit glad that we do not have more stories from his childhood. Because then we would have to deal with his being a child, and a teenager and a young man. What does it mean that Jesus was fully human as a child and a teenager and a young man? He probably fell down a few times learning how to walk. He most likely got tired and needed naps. Maybe he broke a bowl or a lamp and was afraid to tell his parents so he claimed ignorance. Perhaps the mythical creature Idunno lived in Jesus’ home as well. Maybe he liked a girl. Maybe his skin broke out. Maybe he felt guilt over something he did or didn’t do. Maybe he felt regret or remorse. Maybe he was just as awkward and gangly and silly and goofy and sassy as the rest of us when he was growing up.
            That’s the reality of our belief that Jesus was fully human as well as divine. Jesus had to grow up. Jesus was born in the messy way that we are all born, and as we well know, the messiness doesn’t end when the baby is cleaned up and handed to his mama. Life just gets messier and messier.
            Yet isn’t that what is so wonderful and astonishing and powerful about the incarnation? It means that God was born into the mess. Believing that Jesus was and is the Son of God does not mitigate the fact that he had to grow up, same as us. He wasn’t born as a human then floated through childhood. He didn’t walk across the water of adolescence. He had to grow up. He was a child. He was a teenager. Childhood is messy for a multitude of reasons. Adolescence is messy for many more. In adolescence we are trying to figure out who we are and why we are. We are trying to become our own person. In more psychological terms, we are trying to differentiate from our parents and our family of origin. Isn’t that what Jesus is doing here? He was not only growing up; he was growing into who he truly was and who he would become. We hear at the end of our passage that Jesus continued to increase and grow in wisdom. It seems to me that his staying behind at the temple was to do just that. He was trying to increase and grow and become who he truly was – and is. Perhaps he thought the same thing that every teenager has thought for ages? “My parents just don’t understand.”
So maybe there was some teenage snark in his response to his parents. I like to think that there was. Because that is one more example of his being as human as I am. Jesus had to grow up. He had to increase in his wisdom and understanding.
            Knowing that the One who came for my sake also had to grow up, to increase in his wisdom gives me hope; not just that my own teenagers will do the same, but that I will do the same. I am much wiser at 50 than I was at 30. Certainly I am wiser than I was at 20, only I would not have believed that then. But I know that with all I know, there is so much more that I do not know. I continue to need to increase – in my wisdom, in my prayers, in my compassion, in my love.
            Jesus had to grow up. Jesus had to increase in wisdom and understanding. So do I. So do we all. Thanks be to God for this story that reminds us that increasing in wisdom is a lifelong adventure. And thanks be to God for loving us so much that he was born into this messy life and grew up in this messy world and lived this messy human existence; not for his sake but for ours.
            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Little Ones -- Fourth Sunday of Advent

Micah 5:1-5a
December 20, 2015

            Bethlehem was the one place I could not wait to see. It wasn't that I didn't want to visit the other countries and sites we were touring, but Bethlehem? Bethlehem was it. It was the real deal. This was the town that I had been singing about and hearing about my whole life. I was finally going to see and experience that little town of Bethlehem. I guess in my mind, I saw Bethlehem as a cozy, charming village. After all, the artistic depictions of Bethlehem I saw growing up made it seem like a quaint little town tucked in the Swiss alps. Just substitute sand for snow and you've got it. Of course these are the same pictures that portrayed Mary as blonde and blue-eyed, so I should have guessed that reality might differ from the pictures.
            Bethlehem different from the pictures? That's an understatement. Bethlehem was nothing like I thought it would be. How shall I put this? It was a dump. A dive. A pit of despair. A ditch of despondency. You get the idea. The pictures and paintings I'd seen growing up were far cries from the reality of Bethlehem.
            When we first pulled into the town, I looked eagerly for those dark streets that were once illumined by an everlasting light. But they were just dark. And if they were wide and open enough to be filled with sunlight, then what really stood out was the dirt and the dust. There were people walking around, but they stared at our tour bus with suspicion and distrust. I can't say that I blamed them.
“Oh goody. Another group of westerners come to stare at us.”
 What really stood out to me was the Israeli military encampment on one side of a main road and the Palestinian neighborhood directly opposite. I use the term neighborhood loosely. Most neighborhoods I know aren't surrounded by large metal fences with access in and out dictated by turnstiles.
            The Bethlehem I visited and the Bethlehem of lore were two very different places. That really shouldn't have been a surprise, I know. But the disparity between the ideal and the reality was far wider than I would have ever thought possible. Bethlehem in 1993 was a sad, neglected town, ravaged by violence and hopelessness. Never was I so glad to leave a place as I was Bethlehem.
            As I said this was 1993. Things change. My dear friend, Ellen, took a tour of the Holy Land just a couple of years ago, and the souvenir she brought back for me was a coffee mug from the Bethlehem Starbucks. If Starbucks has made it to Bethlehem, then you know there has been some progress; Starbucks in lieu of a star. I have no problem with Starbucks. As many of you know, I believe strongly that coffee has the power to effect change and inspire hope. At least that's what it tells me every morning.
            But lattes aside, the Bethlehem I visited was a different place from the one which abides in the carols we sing. Yet the Bethlehem of my memory doesn't seem that different from the Bethlehem Micah spoke of and to in these verses.
            "But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days."
            As always, understanding of these particular verses comes from understanding the larger context. Israel and Judah were under siege by the Assyrians. Samaria, the stronghold of the northern kingdom had fallen. According to one Old Testament scholar, great walls and fortresses were built around city after city in attempt to thwart the invaders. But city after city had fallen. They lay in ruins. Bethlehem was no different. It was ravaged by war and conquest. All that was left of its mighty walls and ramparts were smoke and ash. But in the midst of this devastation, Micah spoke this miraculous word of hope. Out of this little clan, this little town, this seemingly unimportant and conquered place will come one who will rule. This one that Micah spoke of would be both rooted in the ancient days of Israel's beginnings and in the future that would be grounded in God's promise and faithfulness. Out of this little one, this little Bethlehem, would come one who would rule, shepherd, and bring peace.
            In the midst of such terrible devastation, Micah prophesied that one would come who would bring peace. And that one would come from the most unexpected of places: Bethlehem. It's easy to Christianize Micah's words. Certainly they tie in neatly with our story from Luke. Another little one, a young woman named Mary, would give birth to that ruler and shepherd and bringer of peace. However, Micah and the people to whom he prophesied, were probably not thinking of the one we call Christ. I imagine they heard these words and saw a new David, a new king who would once more rule with might and power. Their enemies would be defeated. Their homes would be rebuilt. Their lands would be restored by this new and powerful King.
            Yet just as Bethlehem was an unexpected and unlikely place for a ruler, the one who would come was equally unexpected. This isn't a surprise to us, is it? That's the radical nature of the gospel. The unexpected and surprising nature of God's incarnation is what makes the story of our faith such good news. From little ones, little towns, little people, comes great hope, peace, love and joy. That is amazing and wonderful news. It is God's divine surprise. God is where you least expect, and God is found in the unlikeliest of people.
            It seems to me, though, that while we know this about God we don't really know this about God. We either take this good news for granted, or we forget it in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us. The pain of the world is so great that the idea of light overcoming darkness sounds like just a nice thing to say. This world we live in is so filled with enmity, violence, greed and fear that it is surely beyond redemption. And that’s just out there. What about in here? What about in us? What brokenness lies within each of us? What pain and sorrow do we bear? Will this bringer of peace bring peace to our lives, bind up our broken hearts, and soothe our weary spirits? Of course God will. Of course. Again, that is the good news! That is the gospel! We say it, but do we always believe it? I know I don't. The darkness of the world fills me with despair, and I find it easy to lose hope. I find it hard to believe that a light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
            But God never fails to surprise me. God never fails to meet me in places and through people I least expect. I may take the surprise of God for granted, but then God surprises me anew. God surprises me, and I am shaken from my complacency and knocked out of my selfish ease. God surprises, and that is the reason that I can find joy on this morning. In the midst of so much pain and loss, there is still reason to be joyful because God surprises us through the little ones – little people, little places, little churches. God surprise us through the unexpected ones, the least and the lowest ones.
            The gospel is a gospel of surprise, and the call of Advent is to be surprised again by God. After all, how can we not be surprised that our God was born into this broken body in a broken world, not to overwhelm us or destroy us but to love us? To love us.
To. Love. Us.
God came through the little ones to bring large love. God surprises us. Thanks be to God.
            Let all of God's children say, "Alleluia!" Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

God Rushes In -- Third Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-20
December 13, 2015

Someday at Christmas
Men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs
Like kids play with toys
One warm December
All hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas
There’ll be no wars
When we have learned
What Christmas is for
When we have learned
What life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth

            I’ve realized that at this time of year I’m a lot like Pavlov’s dog. NOT because when I hear the ring of a bell I start salivating for food; but there are certain phrases and certain songs that immediately fill my eyes with tears.
            “Daddy, teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings.’” This closing line from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life is definitely a phrase that starts the tears flowing. When I started celebrating Christmas apart from my parents, the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas took its place on my list of Holiday Tearjerkers. And in these last years, this song by R&B artist, Mary J. Blige, has joined that list as well. Technically, it falls under the category of secular Christmas music, but the hope and longing that it voices spans the divide between secular and sacred.
            Peace on earth. That is our hope and our desire, isn’t it? Peace on earth. Peace between nations. Peace between nations and neighbors. Peace in our homes and peace in our hearts. Yet, it seems that we have never been further away from peace then we are at this moment, right now.  Three years ago, about this time, I stood in the pulpit in the big church and tried to voice our heartbreak after the terrible shooting of children and teachers in Newtown. That day I thought that it couldn’t be much darker than that, but today the darkness is even thicker, denser and more suffocating than it was then. A world of peace seems more like a fantasy; one that is nice to daydream about but that you know will never come to pass. People everywhere claim to want peace, but actions speak louder than words. The collective actions of people here and people elsewhere speak more of violence and hatred than they do of peace and peacemaking. I want to be a peacemaker. I want to work and strive for peace. I feel it is the essence of my call, my vocation to do that, but I no longer know where to begin.
            The truth is, I am exhausted. I am weary in body and spirit by the hatred and the violence in our world. I am weary and heartbroken and tired of hate-filled rhetoric and violence and fear-mongering. I’m just tired. Aren’t you? I am overwhelmed with the brokenness of the world. I know that I contribute to that brokenness, but I don’t know how to change course. I want to stay true to the path I have been called to walk, but my feet aren’t just slipping and sliding off the path, they feel weighted with lead. I just want to lie down, cover my head, shut out the sound of the world’s sorrows and sleep.
            It was to this weariness of body and spirit that the prophets spoke. Certainly, that is true for Zephaniah. Zephaniah is not a prophet we hear from very often. His book is a quick read, only three chapters. But those three chapters are intense. The first two are packed with prophesies of destruction.
Chapter 1, verses 2 and 3: “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the Lord. I will sweep away humans and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I will make the wicked stumble. I will cut off humanity from the face of the earth, says the Lord.”
            It is almost like the creation story in reverse. Instead of creating, God will destroy. Not exactly hopeful words to hear, are they? Zephaniah’s words were aimed at the leadership of the day; both political and religious. The homes and the lives of the people lay in ruin, but those who had the power to effect change did nothing. More often than not, it was those in power who were indirectly and directly responsible for that ruin.
            Zephaniah called the leaders to accountability. God would rush in, he warned them, with judgment for their apostasy and their corruption. God would rush in with fierce retribution for the ways they led the people they were supposed to serve astray. The great day of the Lord would descend upon Israel’s enemies – without and within. But then, in what seems to be an abrupt about face, Zephaniah closes his message with the words of hope we read this morning. Zephaniah called the people to rejoice and to exult with all their hearts because the judgments against them would be taken away. God would rush into their midst, to judge but also to redeem. God would rush in, both calling the people to task and offering forgiveness for their sins. No more were the people to fear destruction and devastation. Instead the Lord who rushed in would rejoice over them with gladness and song. The God who rushed into their midst would “remove disaster from them, save the lame, gather the outcast, change their shame into praise, bring them home, and gather them in.”
            These are such beautiful and powerful words of hope. If only they would come to fruition right now, on this dark day, in this dark time. I’m probably not alone in that, but I wonder if we confuse what it means for God to rush in. At first reading of these verses in Zephaniah, it sounds as if the Lord will rush in like the cavalry does in old westerns. Just when all seems lost, God rushes into the midst of the battle, turns the tide and saves the day. We may not consciously wish for this, but perhaps we do hope for this reality. Instead of longing for the triumph of the trinity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we wait for the coming of the Lone Ranger, Tonto and the strains of the William Tell Overture. Yet I don’t think that is what it means for God to rush in. I don’t think that is what it meant when Zephaniah rose up as a prophet; I don’t think that is what it means now.
            In Hebrew and in the context of the Old Testament – and in the New Testament as well – righteousness and justice always walked hand-in-hand. If Zephaniah called the leadership to task because justice did not prevail, it was because they were not living righteously either. Paraphrasing the words of another scholar, there is a great difference between righteousness and self-righteousness. Living righteously means seeing the humanity in others. It means recognizing the humanity in both the victim and the criminal. It means acknowledging the humanity of the poor, and the humanity of the enemy, the different, the outcast, the refugee. On the other hand self-righteousness degrades humanity. It denies the humanity of those who are different and those who are suffering. It vilifies the least of these, and demonizes the poor and the outcast. Justice is warped and twisted when we live self-righteously. But when we seek to live righteously, acknowledging the humanity in all, then we cannot help but seek to live justly as well. When we deny the humanity in others, denying them justice is easy. However the opposite is equally as true. When we acknowledge the humanity in others, we cannot help but seek justice for them as well.
            It seems to me that when Zephaniah prophesied that God would rush into the midst of the people, it was not as the cavalry or the Lone Ranger. It was because God was calling on the people to once again live as God created them to live. It was because God was calling the people to be the people God created them to be. When the people returned to righteousness, it would not be a case of them saving themselves, but they would no longer be living in a way that pushed God out. It might seem that God would rush into their midst after a long absence, but in truth, God had always been there. God had never left them. It was they who had left God.
            I find myself praying for God to rush in. Please God, rush into this dark world. Rush into the hearts of those who believe that the way to follow you is by killing others. Please God, rush into the lives of those who ease their suffering by causing the suffering of others. Please God, rush into the minds of those who use fear as a way to control, and who demonize others to advance their own agenda. And before I get caught up in my own perceived goodness and stumble into self-righteousness, do the same for me. Rush into those places where I have pushed you out. Rush into the needs I think I can satisfy on my own. Rush into my wrong belief that I can save myself. Rush in, God, and remind me that you never rushed out. Remind me that you have never left me or abandoned me. Rush into my life, God. Rush in, so that I can rush into the lives of others, to love and serve your people with righteousness, justice and joy. Rush in, O God. Rush in.
            Let all of God’s people say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Day of His Coming -- Second Sunday of Advent

Malachi 3:1-4
December 6, 2015

            “It’s not like in the movies.” I heard that phrase repeatedly during childbirth classes. My teacher said over and over again that labor in real life is nothing like labor in the movies. In the movies, labor is depicted as something that happens fast. A pregnant woman feels the first twinge of a contraction, and in a matter of minutes she goes from early labor to full-blown the-baby-is-about-to-be-here-get-me-to-the-hospital-now labor. I know that there are women who have babies fast just like that. But more often than not labor is a process of waiting; especially when it is the first baby. At least that’s the way it was for me.
            Seventeen years ago I was in the last week of my first pregnancy, and I was doing a lot of waiting. At home and at church, I was as ready as I could be. At church I had organized all of Advent and Christmas Eve. When I went into labor or started my maternity leave, whichever came first, the people in charge of leading worship only had to show up. Every service was ready to go. I moderated one last session meeting with the entire group of elders watching me intently for signs that it was time to go to the hospital. I was having contractions throughout the meeting. But they were Braxton Hicks, those warm-up contractions before the real event, so no baby yet.
At home, I had been in full-blown nesting mode for at least a month. My mother suggested I used the wrapping paper from the gifts at my baby showers to line the drawers of the clothes chest in the baby’s room. So I alternated between sitting on the floor and lining a drawer, to standing up, to sitting back down again. All that up and down sent my back into spasms during the night and we thought labor was imminent, but no. My due date was the 11th, and at this time 17 years ago, I had read the chapter describing the early signs and stages of labor in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” so many times I’d memorized it. With each potential sign that I might be going into labor, I psyched myself up for the real event; but not yet.
I heard that walking could help induce labor, so I walked the full route of our house. I walked on the treadmill at the workout center in town. I walked the length of both levels in the major mall in Albany, New York. Still no baby, but I was ready. I was prepared. Everything I could do was done. Come on, baby, come.
However, if I’ve learned one thing in in my years of living, it is that no matter how prepared, how ready and organized I think I may be, there are some things, some events for which you can never be fully prepared. No example of this that I can conceive of is truer than the coming of the day of the Lord.
I know that we are supposed to be prepared. That is the point of Advent, isn’t it? Prepare. Make ready. Live in expectation and anticipation. But how prepared are we? What are we preparing for?
The prophet Malachi told the people that a messenger would come who would prepare the way for the Lord’s arrival. The people were seeking the Lord? The Lord would suddenly come into this temple. The people wanted the messenger to show up? Well, that messenger was on his way. But! There is always a but. This messenger that is to come to them, well as Malachi said, “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?”
It wasn’t so much that the people were to prepare, as it was that they would be prepared. The messenger was coming to prepare the way for the Lord and that meant preparing God’s people. Perhaps the people thought they were prepared. Perhaps they really were eager for that day to arrive. But Malachi gave them a word of caution. Who can endure the day of his coming?
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word endure, I’m thinking that whatever is about to arrive probably will not be a whole lot of fun. You don’t generally endure joy or endure celebration. Endurance suggests testing and judgment. According to Malachi, testing and judgment are exactly what the people should expect. The people would undergo testing and they would be judged. But was this judgment about punishment or was it about something else?
I can envision refining, but fuller’s soap is not something we hear about. And fuller is not a person’s name. This was not a brand of soap. Fulling was the act of cleaning and preparing wool for use.  A fuller was the person who did the fulling.  There was a place outside of Jerusalem called Fuller’s field. This was the place where the wool went to be fulled.  The fuller’s soap was the soap used by the fuller to clean the wool.  It had to have been some pretty powerful soap.  The wool sheared from a sheep would have been greasy and dirty.  It would have taken hard scrubbing, as well as soap, to remove the grease and grime that collected on the wool.  Fuller’s soap would make the wool snow white.  Fuller’s soap softened and relaxed the wool, so that it would be ready for whatever purpose it was put to.  Whether it would be made into clothing, bedding or rugs, the soap the fuller used prepared the wool.  It made it ready.
            So the messenger that Malachi refers to is someone who will act on the people like fuller’s soap acts on wool.  Because of this messenger the people will be made ready.  They will be prepared.  They will be washed clean. 
            Christian tradition ties this messenger that Malachi speaks of to John the Baptist.  John is the main character in our gospel lesson from Luke. I always feel that during Advent the lectionary takes us backwards from the end to the beginning.  Stories of the end times begin Advent. Next week the gospel lesson speaks of John’s birth.  But today it is the adult John the Baptist who appeared out of the wilderness, preached by the river Jordan, and proclaimed, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
            John was the messenger who prepared the way. While he offered baptism by water, he told the people that One would come who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. Baptism by water is cleansing. Baptism by fire and the Holy Spirit is refining.
            Malachi spoke of both. The messenger preparing the way will cleanse us and refine us. That’s judgment, true, but it is judgment with a greater purpose. What happens to silver when it is refined? It shines. It reveals the reflection of the One who is doing the refining. We already know what happens when wool is fulled. The grease and dirt and grime is washed away leaving the wool clean and bright.
            We may think that we are preparing, but according to Malachi we are actually being prepared. That preparation requires judgment, but it is a judgment designed to refine and clean, to bring out our true selves; to reveal our true hearts.
            I know I should be careful what I wish for, but I find myself praying for this messenger to get here quickly. I know that I will be included in that judgment and I hope I can endure it. But the truth is, enduring the world as it is right now is becoming much more than I can endure. This is the Sunday of Advent that is centered on peace. Peace. Peace has never seemed further away than it does at this moment. How much more violence, how much killing, how much devastation and destruction and heartache can we bear? How much more grief can our hearts endure?
            After the mass shooting in San Bernadino this week, the outcry and rage at this ongoing violence has intensified. After every shooting, it seems that politicians and leaders of every stripe offer their “thoughts and prayers for the victims and families.” That sounds nice, but everywhere I turn I hear people saying, “I don’t care about your thoughts and prayers. Do something.”
            It seems that the expression “thoughts and prayers” has become a platitude. It is just something to be said. My fear is that the word peace has become a platitude as well. We wish each other peace. I sign off on all my pastoral letters and writings with “Peace and blessings.” And the idea of peace is used by advertisers this time of year to sell, sell, sell.
            But peace requires action. Peace is not just the absence of violence. Peace is something we do. Peace is something we live. We are called to be peacemakers. We are called to pray for peace, work for peace, bring peace, offer peace, embody peace. So if the day of his coming brings refinement and cleansing, then let’s pray for that day to come. Let’s pray that the day of his coming will remove that which keeps us from being people of peace and make us more the people we were created to be. May the day of his coming bring peace, finally, peace. Amen.