- On December 5, 2021
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This Sunday is the second week of Advent – the Sunday of Peace. It is also the week that the prophet Malachi and John the Baptist arrive on the scene! Sometimes we need a little disruption in order to find the peace for which we are searching. This week’s reflection is entitled: The Refiners Image. My hope is that it challenges you – just that little bit – as you prepare for Christmas.
If you would like to have a pastoral visit during Advent – in person, by phone or over Zoom –please reach out and we will set a time to meet.
It is amazing that this Advent is rushing by at such a relaxed pace. I know that that sounds like an oxymoron, however, already this Advent, we have hosted a beautiful Women’s Candlelight Service, prepared our Student Christmas Care packages which are ready to be sent out, and today we will also begin our delivery of the Christmas poinsettias & cookies to the senior members of our congregation who are unable to attend worship on a regular basis. On behalf of Session, a big thank-you to everyone who has helped clean, bake, shop, package, mail, deliver, donate, and serve as we care for our community!
Christmas Giving Tree: As has been our custom here at Knox PC Sixteen during Advent we will focus attention on a number of the agencies that we support though our outreach and missions. Each Sunday during the Advent season we will focus on a different agency. This week we will focus on Kerr Street Mission: Oakville’s Mission of Hope. Please checkout the Kerr Street website www.kerrstreet.com and consider making a contribution – either by placing an envelope on the tree or through your regular offering designated as missions.
Kerr Street Mission: For 25 years, Kerr Street Mission – Oakville’s Mission of Hope – has been connecting with families and youth, offering programs and services that are needed in the community. Perhaps best know for their meal programs, Kerr Street Mission has expanded to support a more comprehensive food service program: between 650-700 people access food from KSM each week which equates to approximately 80,000 pounds of food on an annual basis. However, KSM provides more, much more, than food. At the root of KSM’s mission is helping those who are disadvantaged – by poverty, immigration, mental health – to reclaim control of their lives. Through the Neighbour Care initiative, the afterschool programs or the summer camps, Kerr Street Mission supports children, youth and families to thrive.
Christmas Eve Service: The Christmas Eve service of worship will be held at 7:00pm. Due to the continued restrictions on group gathering, and the identification of the new Omicron Variant, Session will be monitoring to determine if additional restrictions need to be put in place or if a second service of worship needs to be added. To assist in these decisions, you are kindly asked to contact Brenda to let her know if you are planning on attending the Christmas Eve Service. Thank-you for your cooperation in this matter: we hope to keep everyone safe as we celebrate the birth of the Messiah!
Ministers Vacation: Rev. Patrick and his family will be travelling to Newfoundland to celebrate Christmas with their family. They will be leaving bright and early Christmas Day and returning the first week of January. In his absence Rev. Sean Foster from Hopedale Presbyterian Church will provide pastoral care to the congregation. His contact information is available through Brenda.
Service of Worship
Second Sunday of Advent
December 5, 2021
On Jordan’s Bank https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zq0f0Qo6A24
Comfort, comfort you my people https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=119C58F3dnQ
Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bs6f9vA6s2o
Go, tell it on the mountain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72LE487YZ-U
3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, 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 fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Luke 3: 1-6
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Reflection: The Refiners Image
This week as I reflected upon the readings from Scripture assigned for the second Sunday of Advent, I was attracted to the passage from Malachi like a moth to a flame. However, the initial attractive brightness soon gave way to a searing heat. The prophet Malachi says that God is “like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap”. Thus, while these passages hold the wonderful promise – that the way will be prepared for the coming messiah – these passages also direct, that the way that needs to be prepared, may not be an easy one.
The background for both of these passages is that the people, who were in covenant relationship with God, were disillusioned. They looked at their lives as a community of believers and did not see evidence of God’s presence amongst them. They cried out for a messiah, because they believed that God was no longer holding up God’s side of the covenant. The words of Malachi and John were not the response that they expected.
From one perspective it is hard to blame them. Life was not going well so they prayed for things to be better, for their situation to change. How many of us have ever found ourselves in similar situations? We have illness and we pray for healing … and wonder why the healing doesn’t come. We have worry for the future … and despair when do not experience the peace of the Holy Spirit. I am sure that we all know people who have faced trials in their life, where they have called out to God, and because the outcome was not as they wanted, blamed God or concluded that God didn’t exist.
We see this in the culture around us as well. We observe the way that couples separate and divorce because the relationship is no longer working … as one or both of them are unwilling to make the changes required to fulfilling the vows that they made to each other on their wedding day. We see children glued to their electronic devices because parents do not have the time or the energy to engage with them in meaningful ways … gone are the days when they held their infants and promised each other that they would raise their children in a loving caring family home. We see the loss of resilience and the increase in drug usage knowing that many, too many, younger people are unable to find meaning in a life, that for them, is no longer worth living. We are saddened by these things and the rise of depression and despair that seeps through our society like a dark shroud … and I know that often, I am overcome by the helplessness that I feel, and my powerlessness to impact the world in any way that seems significant.
At times such as these we want to experience the healing balm of a warm bath, or to be held lovingly in the arms of God so that our anxiety can melt away. And yet today, we are not welcomed into a spa-like space of relaxation and restoration … but rather, just like the people to whom Malachi and John spoke, we are confronted by images of the refiner’s fire and a thorough washing with lye soap. We are called to prepare the way of the Lord … and instructed that the preparation must begin with ourselves as individuals and as a worshipping community. “If you want to have a better world,” we can hear the echoes of Malachi and John “then be prepared to have the changes made in yourself first.” (pause)
As I mentioned, what began as an attraction to a warm flame quickly became an encounter with a searing heat!
- What changes do I have to make in my life?
- How does my affluent living affect the lot of others?
- What must I do to make the world a better place?
It didn’t make it any easier that we have just finished a Bible study of the Book of James – where we were exhorted to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves! (James 1:22)
And so, as the week went on, the list of questions got longer and longer, threatening to weight me down and mire me in a place of my own inadequacy. And then, I did what I usually do when I find myself in places like this: my first response is to take a step back, to assess the situation around me and then make a plan to addresses what I perceived the problems and issues to be. (pause)
So this week I laid out a simple 4 stage process for change. 4 steps that a person can take that would allow them to make changes in their life that they believed would make a difference in the world. The four stages are: Recognition, Desire, Repentance, Practice.
- The first step is Recognition: acknowledgement of where changes are necessary. This involves identifying the parts of one’s life that are not “life-giving” for oneself or for their community;
- the second stage is Desire: a willingness to make the changes. Without a desire to make the changes required – quite frankly – the necessary changes will not happen;
- the third stage is Repentance: renouncing that which was acknowledged in the first step and then identifying what new actions will be taken. This is not an easy step, for it is the stage where the wrongs of the past have to be confronted and new ways of living have to be articulated; which brings us to the fourth stage …
- the fourth stage is Practice: making the changes that have been committed to, a part of one’s daily life. Creating habits and new ways of being that reinforce the desired changes that one is making.
At this point in the week, I was starting to feel a little better about myself and the plan that I had devised to make the world a better place; however, as I continued to engage in this process of reflection, I realized that I was missing one very, very important point. Perhaps the most important point. As I reflected upon the readings of Scripture, I realized … that I am not the refiner. Nor is it me who is holding the soap. And that what was missing in my compact 4 stage process for change … was God.
In my desire to see the world as a better place, I became the one at the center who was creating the vision of a better world… in my image: a slippery slope if ever there was one! (for further reflection consider the extremes portrayed through the Handmaid’s Tale)
Now don’t get me wrong, personal self reflection is a very important process for each one of us. And, if you are like me, there are changes in your way of living and being that need to be addressed. However, no matter where we end up on our own – I expect that it may be very different from the Kingdom of God … that God envisions. And I would also expect that the risks that we are willing to take from our relatively comfortable, affluent lifestyles may pale in comparison to the changes that the Holy Spirit would enable in us if we were but willing. (pause)
One of my favorite hymns, which I know is also a congregational favorite is, Spirit of Gentleness. It is a soothing song, that aligns quite nicely with our image of the Holy Spirit as the Dove of Peace. It is a hymn whose melody lulls the congregation into a tranquil place of calm that belies and opposes the message that is contained within the lyrics – You swept through the desert – you stung with the sand … Spirit of Restlessness, stir me from placidness.
More appropriate perhaps than the dove as the image of the Holy Spirit is the image that the ancient Celtic Christians held. Celtic Christians chose, not the dove, but the wild goose as a symbol representing the Holy Spirit. Imagining a wild goose descending upon you is a different matter altogether than the dove of peace descending with poise and grace. A wild goose is one noisy, assertive, bothersome bird! And a good image for us as we journey through Advent, for I believe it may make us a little uncomfortable and help to jar us from our complacency. Because, in our familiarity with this image of the gentle Spirit, I fear that we have domesticated the Holy Spirit to such an extend that we no longer notice or pay attention … and have been influenced, ever so subtly, by the culture around us to buy into the prevailing wisdom that God is no longer present in the world and that we can take care of things on our own. (pause)
As I mentioned what was first an attraction to a warm flame has brought me to a place of searing heat, where if I choose, I will be subjected to the refiner’s fire and a thorough cleansing by the Holy Spirit who comes squawking with the assertiveness of a wild goose! The question of Malachi is: am I willing to submit? The Advent question is: are you willing to submit?
You see, I think that this is the challenging question that is contained within the passage from Malachi. However, there is also a promise that is contained here as well. The refiner’s fire is indeed a place of searing heat; however, it only has one purpose. And that purpose is to purify; however, even here the purification is for a special purpose.
A silversmith knows that the refining process is not complete until they can see their own image reflected in the mirror-like surface of the metal. To submit to the refiner’s fire of the Holy Spirit as silversmith … is to be purified so that the image of God is reflected in us.
You see the truth of the Gospel is that we are beloved children of a loving God: precious in God’s sight and cherished. And that in submitting ourselves to a “thorough cleaning” we are doing nothing more, and nothing less, than placing our lives into the hands of God … and allowing our lives to be instruments of God’s peace.
So, as we end our reflection today a couple of Advent questions to consider:
- Have you felt the Holy Spirit stirring you to challenge your perspectives, question your lifestyle or to change in some way?
- How has God been working to refine and purify our life and the life of our community of faith?
My prayer is that we have the faith to open our hearts to the wild goose who will stir us from placidness and prepare us to welcome the Messiah and the coming Kingdom of God. Amen