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. 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; 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. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
When we hear the word “pure,” we often imagine something that began clean and has never been otherwise. Pure water flows from the spring of a wild mountain stream. The pure innocence of a child has not yet been tested by the cares of the world. Eden was pure in the early days of creation, and the Psalmist likewise asks God to “create in me a clean heart.”
At Christmas, this quality of perpetual purity is an element of the celebration of Mary. Several of our most treasured carols – “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing;” “O Come, All Ye Faithful;” “Silent Night” – don’t even mention Mary by name, describing her only as “the virgin.” Some Christian churches profess the doctrine that Mary remained pure for her entire life, both before and after the birth of Christ.
That standard may be attainable by the mother of God, but what about the rest of us sinners? It’s not every Sunday that we can bring our offerings to church in righteousness. For us, Malachi brings words of reassurance: God does not only come for those who are already pure; God makes us pure. The prophet likens this to refinement, which drives out impurity and leaves only what is precious and valuable. A people that was once righteous, in days gone by, shall become so again. This is good news!
The trial, though, is whether we can stand when God appears. After a time of preparation, the Lord will come suddenly. In Handel’s Messiah, this text from Malachi is set to some of the most frenetic and intense music in the oratorio. The baritone sings of the refiner’s fire, and the music paints the rising and leaping flames.
Those whom God touches by fire, however, are made clean by that fire to do God’s work. “Woe is me,” said Isaiah, “for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” But God sent an angel to touch Isaiah’s mouth with a fiery coal, preparing Isaiah to prophesy. At Pentecost, too, the tongues of flame over the apostles’ heads were a sign of the Holy Spirit. This Advent, may God appear to us, even as a refiner’s fire, to make our hearts pure and ready to receive Christ incarnate.
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee.
“Thus Saith the Lord” & “But who may abide” from Messiah
For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.
These familiar words from scripture inspired Baroque composer George Frederick Handel to include them in his oratorio, Messiah. Oratorios are musical compositions for choirs, soloists, and orchestras. Most often, they are used to retell biblical stories from the Old Testament. Messiah, as the title suggests, retells the story of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. It is divided into three parts. Part the First quotes bible passages regarding the prophecy and nativity of Our Lord. Part the Second focuses on his passion and resurrection. The final section, Part the Third, reminds us of our promised life eternal. The word oratorio comes from the Latin verb orare, to pray (hence oratory). The musical composition was named from the kind of musical services held in the church of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Rome. In this devotional, Dr. Ben & Chris Hagan have prepared the fifth movement of Handel’s Messiah for you. In it you will hear Handel’s musical depiction of the Lord “shaking the heavens.” To paint this text, he employs the musical device, melisma, a group of notes sung to one syllable of text.
Second Sunday of Advent—the Candle of Peace
The children and youth of Westminster were asked to talk about the word peace. This is their response:
Dear Lord, thank you for giving us peace. May we find it within ourselves and help give it to others.
Reach out to PC(USA) Mission Coworker, Paula Cooper
Jesus emphasized love of neighbor and invites us to have a more global sense of what it means to be a neighbor. At Westminster, we practice his teaching by extending our love and care beyond our local and national boundaries. This Advent, consider sending a Christmas email to Paula Cooper, whom WPC supports as the Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker based in Zambia. As regional liaison for East Central Africa, Paula facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia, where the church is growing rapidly, and pastoral training and leadership development are of major concern. The pandemic has imposed particular burdens on her ministry.