The season of Advent is one in which the Church anticipates, prepares for, and celebrates the coming of Jesus Christ into our midst. As I thought about waiting expectantly for the presence of Jesus, I started wondering what exactly I am waiting for. What is it I expect from his coming? Am I waiting for him to come and fix my circumstances or get me out of a tight place? Do I just want him to ease my suffering and pain, to bring comfort and solace?
The Jesus who came to Israel was not the Messiah many Israelites, especially the religious leaders of Israel, were expecting. They were watching for someone who would ease their plight and throw off the yoke of oppression under which they were living. They wanted freedom and what they considered abundant life in the here and now. Certainly Jesus brought freedom and abundant life, but he did not do so in the way in which the Jews had anticipated.
In Malachi 3, the subject is the coming of the Lord. The chapter begins with the assurance that the Lord will suddenly come to his temple. But verse 2 asks, “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” In other words, his coming is not going to be characterized by coziness and ease. Rather, verses 2-3 indicate that he will come as a purifier and refiner. That actually sounds good, as long as the objects of that purification and refining are the sorcerers, the adulterers, the oppressors, the arrogant, and the evildoers (Mal 3:5; 4:1). But he starts by purifying the Levites, who were some of the religious leaders of Israel (Mal 3:3). That does not sound quite as good.
Yet, there is a purpose behind this purifying and refining. While verse 2 describes the Lord as being like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap, verse 3 emphasizes that he will “sit” as a refiner and purifier. So he does not just throw us into the fire and wait to see what happens. Rather, he carefully sits and studies the situation, designing the refining process so that the silver is purified and refined at just the right temperature and for just the right amount of time.
Verses 3-4 reveal that the end result of this process is making it possible for the Levites to bring offerings to the Lord in righteousness. It is only then that their offerings on behalf of Israel will be pleasing to the Lord. The Lord’s purpose is to transform the Levites and their service on Israel’s behalf so that they—both as individuals and as the nation’s religious representatives—can return to a place of enjoying the presence and blessing of the Lord in their midst. A vessel of silver or gold that has been purified is more able to reflect a true picture of the refiner as that refiner gazes at the vessel.
When I am waiting for the presence of Jesus in the situations of my life, I often am waiting for healing and hope and relief. And I would like it to happen sooner rather than later. But what if the trials and pain are to surface my need for him in places of my heart that I am withholding from him? What if those places need to be purified and cleaned out before he can enter in to bring healing and relief? What if he is refining me through the fire so that I am transformed into a person who is better able to bask in and reflect the glory of his presence? I must confess to not having abandoned the hope for relief and comfort. But I find my deeper desire is to be yielded to the vigilant process of the refiner who works painstakingly to bring true and lasting healing.
What is it that you are waiting for and expecting during this season of Advent as we focus on the anticipation of the Lord’s coming? May we all find the faith to entrust ourselves to the careful and loving hand of the refiner, allowing him to purify and cleanse us so that we might be vessels that truly reflect his glory.