Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advent: cold weather outside but too hot right here.

A parishioner recently commented that I seem different - for the better, thankfully - now that some life burdens have been eased. She compared it to the Biblical idea of "refining" - intense heat burns away our spiritual impurities so that our lives become the treasure that God desires.

But of course there are still burdens, challenges and my abundance of shortcomings and abject failures. The refining is far from complete.

This was amplified as I read Evening Prayer on Wednesday:

The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined from ore and purified seven times in the fire. Psalm 12:6

Ouch. Seven times in the intense fire that destroys all but what is pure. That's a lot of frying to feel in my case.

But "seven" is the Biblical number for wonderful completion. Seven "days of creation" when God rested to enjoy the result. "Seventy times seven" choices to forgive if one is to rise to Jesus' standard of mercy.

This tells me that I am not going to be as "pure as God's word" overnight or after one quick heat treatment. God understands the time needed to bring perfection, and the respite that frail souls need between trips to the furnace.

Another Wednesday lesson came from The Gospel of Matthew. Jesus blasted the self-satisfied religious types and said,

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him...
Matthew 21:31-32

We who realize that we are raw, polluted and unrefined - living way short of what God desires - are going into the kingdom of God if we believe John the Baptist's announcement:

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Matthew 3:11

We can own up to our lost, sorry ways. And if we will make that turn toward reality, we can receive the one who "baptizes with fire," let him refine us, and thank God for the ultimate truth of the "Preface of Advent," sent your beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in him of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing. Book of Common Prayer

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