GETTING RID OF THE COAL
The Old Testament is filled with prophecies of the coming Messiah. During Advent, as we approach Christmas, we tend to pay attention to those prophecies because each of them says something important about the character and work of the Messiah. Today, we are going to be looking at the prophecy in Malachi 3:1-4 which speaks of the Messiah as the Purifier.
The Purifier. What does that mean? It means taking the stuff out that doesn’t belong and leaving the stuff that does. Why do you do that? We do that in order to improve things. When it comes to you and me, we do it to improve our quality of life and our relationship with Jesus Christ.
You know the old saying, “garbage in, garbage out.” It’s true. It’s true of a lot of things, especially our bodies. Most of you know that I’m a bit of a fitness nut and a big part of fitness is nutrition. The best nutrition is clean nutrition. That means eating in a healthy way. It means taking most white things out of your diet. White bread, white rice and white pasta are all no-nos. That’s because they almost instantly turn to sugar and fat and clog up your system. It means limiting sweetened fruit juices and soft drinks and alcohol. It also means limited caffeine intake. There is nothing wrong with a bit of caffeine but North Americans are often guilty of consuming way too much of it. But now you’re saying, “But Pastor Kim, this is Christmas and big part of Christmas is about feasting and how can I feast if I can’t have sugar and fat and coffee and booze. How can I celebrate Christmas without shortbreads and Christmas cake and spiked egg nog? This will be an awful Christmas.”
That’s actually now what I’m trying to do. I want you to enjoy Advent and Christmas. There’s an old saying that says, “everything in moderation.” You’ve heard that before. I like to add to that just a little bit and say, “everything in moderation, including excess.” Every now and then it’s okay to blow your mind and have a great time. Forget the rules and eat and drink what you like. Just be prepared that you may hate yourself in the morning because that’s what happens when you pollute your body.
How do you monitor that? This is Christmas and I was always told – and you probably were too – that if you’re a good boy our girl, Santa will give you a present. But if your naughty, what does Santa give you? He gives you a lump of coal. So this Advent and Christmas, when you do something that you really shouldn’t do, put a lump of coal somewhere in your mind. Too many shortbreads – that’s lump a coal. Too much Christmas cheer – there’s a lump of coal. Overspend your credit card – that’s a lump of coal for sure. Let’s see how many lumps of coal you have come Boxing Day. Because here’s the thing, You might collect coal in your mind but you also have to get rid of it. And that’s where Jesus becomes the Purifier. One of his jobs is to help you to free yourself of the coal.
Malachi is one of the prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah. His book is the very last one listed in the Old Testament. Malachi prophesied somewhere in the second half of the 5th century before Christ. Babylon had defeated Jerusalem in 587 BC and carted the Jews off to Babylon in what is called the Exile. This Exile ended in 516 BC after Babylon was defeated by Persia and the Persian king decided to let the Jews go home. They didn’t all return to Jerusalem at once. In fact, it took decades. It was during this time of returning to Jerusalem that Malachi spoke his prophecy.
The context of his prophecy is that there is a malaise in the religious life of the people in Jerusalem. The priests do their jobs but in a very slap-happy, uncommitted manner. The people have lost their gratitude for God. Both the spiritual and moral welfare of the nation are in general decay. It is into this period of decay that God sends Malachi with words of challenge. We read them in Malachi 3:1-4 (NIV):
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
I want to emphasize Malachi 3:2 (NIV) which says, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiners’ fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” The people and the priests have become lax in their worship of God. They are not honouring God. They are not giving him the praise that he both desires and deserves because they have too much other coal in their lives. They have let too many other things become more important than their relationship with God. God has to do a work on them. They need someone to come in with a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap and get rid of all the impurities to get them back on track with their walk with God. Who is that person, that Purifier? It is the Messiah.
Coal. Does anyone have some coal in their lives? I’m sure a few of us do. I’m sure that most of do. In fact, I’m pretty sure that all of us do. What is coal for us today? The coal of life is the stuff that interferes with your relationship with God. It’s the stuff that keeps you from being the person God created you to be. It is the stuff the prevents you from doing the things that God wants you to do.
What are some of those things? That’s an important question to ask, especially during Advent as we approach Christmas. That’s because the entire purpose of Advent is to intentionally look at your life and see how you can live more closely to the way that God wants you to live and be the person God created you to be. That’s what Advent is about. It’s about your relationship with God. We often forget that. Why? Because we’ve let so many other things get in the way.
Far too often, our Advents are spent not preparing our hearts for Jesus the Messiah but preparing our homes for Christmas Day. Here’s a question for you: during Advent will you spend more time decorating your house and your tree or more time reflecting on your faith and how you live that out? Is there anything wrong with decorating your house? Absolutely not. But what about reflecting on your life? Which do you think God finds more important? During Advent, are you going to spend more time at social gatherings or at worship? Again, I love a good party. So did Jesus. Much of his best work was done at parties. But are Christmas parties more important than worship? During Advent do you expect to spend more time shopping or more time in prayer? Think about it. Where do you think God would prefer you to spend your time? Clearly in prayer. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with shopping for Christmas gifts because there isn’t. But is it really more important than prayer? Do you see how those little pieces of coal start to build up in our lives?
THE COAL IN YOUR LIFE
So, what is really important? Malachi 3:2 (NIV) says, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” It’s not just about Advent. It’s about looking at the rest of our lives as well. We all have some coal piled up somewhere. Each and everyone one of us does things that interfere with our walk with God.
What is it in your life? Are you a bitter and angry person? That can get in the way. Ephesians 4:31 (NIV) says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Any angry and bitter people here this morning? Coal.
Do you gossip? What does the Bible say about that? Proverbs 16:28 (NIV) says, “A perverse person stirs up conflict and a gossip separates close friends.” Gossip, that’s coal.
What about pride? Any proud people here today? I don’t mean pride in the sense that are pleased with something you’ve done. I mean pride in the sense that you just think you’re the cat’s meow and what would the world ever do without you? Proverbs 26:12 (NIV) says this: “Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” More coal.
The bottom line is this: what takes you away from God? What prevents you from being all that God created you to be. Maybe it’s one of those things I mentioned. Maybe it’s something else. But whatever it is, it’s helpful to identify it and deal with it. But don’t try to deal with those things on your own. Malachi says that the Messiah will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He is the one who helps us to be purified from all of our unrighteousness and to be the people God created and called us to be.
ENJOYING THE THINGS THAT HARM US
But here’s one really silly thing. Do you know the biggest challenge when it comes to purifying our lives? It’s that the impurities that keep us from growing in our relationship with God are often the very things that we actually like the most. And that makes sense because, if we didn’t like them, they wouldn’t be a problem. We’d just take those bits of coal and toss them away.
Think, for a moment, about Brussel sprouts. I actually like Brussel sprouts but I confess that I don’t crave them and I don’t know anyone else who does either. No one is going to stand at the Pearly Gates and have St. Peter ask you about your unnatural craving for Brussel sprout. But that’s not true of gambling, substance abuse and food addictions. Those things don’t have to be problems but they become problems when we like them too much and they get in the way of the rest of our lives.
The lure of the coal can be very appealing. And sometimes the things that will harm us the most are the very things that we crave. Interestingly, it’s a well known medical phenomenon that people crave foods to which they are allergic. Isn’t that weird? Rather than staying clear of allergens, the body will actually crave something that will do it harm. The reason for this is that eating foods to which we are allergic elevates our blood sugar levels which acts like a shot of endorphins to the body. And what are endorphins? They are feel good hormones. So, that why we crave things that can actually harm us. They cause endorphins that make us feel good. But taken too far and those things that make us feel good can eventually kill us. Those a sobering thought.
The same thing is true with your soul. The soul can crave the very things that are not good for it, that can actually cause harm. There is a reason for this is something called the sinful nature. The sinful nature is the part of you that makes you want what you really shouldn’t have. It craves the coal. It’s the part that listens to the little voice in your head saying, “It’s okay. Just this once. You’ll really enjoy it. And no one will ever find out. It will be our little secret.” You know that voice, don’t you? In fact, we all know that voice because we all face temptation. And the reason why we can be tempted is because we enjoy those things that tempt us. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be tempting.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO GET RID OF FOR CHRISTMAS?
But within all of the piles of coal – big or small – in our lives and all of the temptations that we face, there is Jesus. He is Purifier. He is the one who helps us to clean up our lives during this Advent season.
When the refiner melts the metal, the impurities float to the top to be scooped off and tossed away. When the launderer uses soap the clothes are made clean because the dirt is washed away. Refining. Cleaning. The impurities are taken out. The dirt is removed. Advent is a time to let Jesus help you get rid of the impurities.
One of the most asked questions of Advent is this: What do you want for Christmas? What do you want? What do you want to find on Christmas morning under the tree wrapped up in pretty paper and colourful bows? You probably have a list of stuff.
I have another question for you today. A much more important one. I don’t want you to tell me what you want to receive on Christmas Day. I want you to think about what you’d like to have gone from your life on Christmas Day. What lumps of coal in your life that are preventing you from being the person God created you to be. Where are the impurities that need to be scooped off? Where is the dirt that needs to be washed away?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply take that coal and put it in a box, wrap it up in black paper and rather than putting it under your Christmas tree, put it out by the road for garbage pick up? All of us know that it’s not that easy. You can’t do that. But you can give it to God. You can take those things that burden your life and lay them at the foot of the cross. Give them to Jesus and allow him to give you the strength that you need to overcome.
Malachi wrote, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiners’ fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” The Messiah is the refiner. He is the launderer. He is the purifier of your soul. Let him in and let him do his work in you.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, we have come to you this morning, out of the deepest longings of our souls. We have come seeking your assurance and the confidence that only faith can offer. Thank you that we can experience your presence as a real force in our lives. We can come to you out of any circumstance and you are there for us. Your hands holds us. Your arms comforts us. Your Spirit nurtures us. We offer our thanks for your many blessings.
We pray for a world in need of your justice. We remember the violence that continues to flare up in so many parts of the world. Blanket our military personnel with the arms of your angels as they go into harm’s way. Protect the innocents and civilians who are often caught in the cross fires of fighting and violence. Bring the peace that only you can give.
We know that taking a stand for what is right is not always popular with those who desire power and influence. Even though our stand for your Gospel may cause ridicule or bring persecution, help us, like Paul, to have the courage and boldness to take a firm stand for what is right, always acting out of love in every situation. Thank you for every opportunity to serve you with joy.
We pray for the family and friends of Kay Collard who died this week and whose life will be celebrated on Wednesday. Give them peace. Give them hope. Give them healing, especially in this season of Advent.
We pray for those who are ill either at home or in the hospital this past week: Carol, Mark, Rachel, Angela and Richard. We would pray for your Healing Spirit to fall in a powerful way upon them as they look to Christmas in just a few short weeks away.
Great God of Joy, we thank you that as we pray in accordance with your will, you hear us and give us whatever we need in Jesus’ name. Increase our knowledge and understanding of your Word so that, in better understanding your Word, we will come to know more of your will and purpose for our individual lives and for the life of this community of faith. Our prayers we raise to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
December 5, 2021 / Advent 2
Malachi 3:1-14; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-16; Philippians 1:3-11
CALL TO WORSHIP
We seek the presence of the God of Peace;
the One who comes in the gentleness of a baby.
Let us worship the Saviour who offers Shalom;
and praise the name of the Holy Child of Bethlehem.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy God, it is a great comfort to know that we can depend on you. Our peace does not have its basis in others. It comes from you. You come to us even in the most difficult circumstances to lift us above our trouble. Therefore, we are at peace with you as our guide and strength. In our worship, we seek to grow stronger every day in faith and love and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Compassion and Mercy, you call us to stand in faith every day of our lives. You call us to live in such a way that others will be able to see your glory shining through our lives, in the way we live and interact with our neighbours. Forgive us when we lift selfishness above compassion, vengeance over forgiveness, harshness above understanding, and impatience over a quiet spirit. Enable us to follow the leadership of your Spirit and to seize every opportunity to bring others closer to you. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God does not expect us to be perfect. God calls us simply to do our best. What a wonderful gift it is to know that even when we fall short of God’s expectations, God still loves us and calls us children of the Most High. Confessing our sins, we find healing and hope in Jesus’ name.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our gifts are many and our resources are great. We give our tithes as an offering of thanks for the blessings that you have poured over us. Give us generous and grateful hearts for there are others who have far less and are in much greater need. Our sharing is a statement of our faith that you will provide all that we need. Amen.
The God of Peace has touched our lives. It is our turn to touch the lives of others with the peace that we have experienced. May the peace of Christ be with you and with us all as we journey towards Bethlehem.