Malachi 3:2b “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap”

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, year C.

Last week, as we listened to Bishop George preach about the advent themes of waiting, and anticipation, I started thinking about how much the act of waiting changed for me, early in 2010.

That’s when I started knitting again. That February is when I started always making sure that if there was going to be waiting- I had a sock with me. And suddenly, the act of waiting was transformed.

I’d find myself sitting in waiting rooms for the kids’ appointments, and the nurse would come out with her clipboard and I’d think “oh, not yet- I’m almost finished this row!”

And everything was different- simply because I had something to do!

And looking back through some of my projects from that time, I remembered that I had a thing for a while there for hats.
Felted hats.

3 felted hats

It was at that time that I first experienced the great trauma of taking something into which I had already poured hours of careful labour, not to mention materials (keep in mind that for most of my life in Guiding, “crafting” has been a code word for taking a lot of expensive supplies and turning them into garbage) and intentionally ruining them.

You know all those things you aren’t supposed to do to wool? Heat. Water. Friction. Soap. The reason you don’t do that is because it changes the very fibres of your wool sweater. The individual strands that have been bound up together to form a yarn, that has been intricately looped up together to form a sweater… those strands stretch, and then shrink, and in the process form new and intractable bonds to the other strands all around.

Felting, its called. Or fulling. And when you do it by accident, it’s a laundry tragedy. But when you do it on purpose it is, in fact, an ancient method of making cloth.

Animal hair- from sheep, or camel, or Tibetan yak, is collected. And then washed- and with the animal’s natural oils removed, the fibres change. And once changed, the work cannot be undone. “Washed” is a bit of an understatement, though. Animal fibres become felt through the prolonged application of heat, and friction. You don’t just wash the wool, you boil it and beat it. Repeatedly.

It’s this image that grabs me, in Malachi’s prophecy, then. Not the refiner’s fire that purifies the gold and silver, but the fuller’s soap- the alkali clay that, along with all the beating and the boiling, also bleaches the wool.
And here’s the thing:
I don’t want to be boiled, or beaten, or fulled.
I don’t want to pass through the refiner’s fire.
If that is what is coming on the day of the lord?
Then I’d just as soon keep waiting.

But without the fire, the precious metal is just a rock.
And without the fuller’s soap, the warm cloth is just a pile of dirty animal hair.

And, I have now been the creator, standing over the washing machine, while heat and friction and soap did their thing. Ready for the moment to come when I stop the cycle and declare my work finished.

Transformed. In the very heart of the fibre from which it is made. And perfect.
And so I can see, in my mind’s eye, a proud creator. Looking upon the work his hand had made. And loving it. Treasuring it. And then boiling and beating the living daylights out of it. To make it what it was always intended to be.

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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Nobody wanted to hear that, either. For the powerful, the strong, the rich- listening to John was probably not unlike being boiled and beaten. A brood of vipers, he called them.

And he reminded them, reminds us, that, in a time of waiting, we have something to do.

Repent. Turn around.

We want to believe that we are, at our heart, okay. That God loves us just as we are. And God does. But we’re also not finished yet.

The day is coming when all of God’s promises will be fulfilled. When the one who came in humility in a stable in the Bethlehem will come in Glory, and the world will know justice and peace.

And until that day comes. We are waiting. But not that useless, sitting around looking at ancient magazines waiting.
John (whose camel-hair clothing (fun fact!) was probably fulled and felted) reminds us that we have things to do, while we wait. He proclaims a baptism of repentance.

The Hebrew word he uses means to turn 180 degrees.
Turn around, and head in the other direction.
Are you headed away from God?
Turn around, and head in the other direction.
Are you using your power to hurt or diminish others?
Turn around, and head in the other direction.
And do it now. Because someone is coming- and you already want to be on the right path when he gets here.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand”, scripture tells us. And I believe it. Because some days, don’t you feel like you’re getting beaten and boiled? But, Malachi reminds us, this is all a part of our getting ready.

Gathered together. And feeling the effects of each other’s fulling. Getting cleaner. Getting stronger. Forming new and unbreakable bonds with the ones alongside us.

Its important, I think, to distinguish between the kind of suffering that God might bring in judgement on the day of his coming in power- and the kind of suffering that we create for ourselves right here, in the ways we hurt one another. But- (another fun fact) well-fulled wool is waterproof. And if we can love each other enough to stick together, and be transformed together through the latter- maybe we’ll be ready to weather the first.

In this short Advent season, we hold together these three truths.

Christ came- once, entering into human history, in Bethlehem.
Christ will come again- eventually, in glory and power.
And Christ is here, with us. Present in ways we know but cannot explain: in Word, in Sacrament, in Community, in human acts of love.

Love one another, he said. Over and over again.
Let love overflow more and more, Paul prayed.

So no staring blankly at out-dated magazines. That kind of waiting is not for us.

We have creative work to do.
Gathering together separate threads. Holding them in tension, working with whatever materials we’re given. Forming those life-giving bonds with the ones around us.

Following the pattern of the one who came to guide our feet in the way of Peace.


One Response

  1. Enjoyed this very much. Jenn

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