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. (Malachi 3.2)
My partner and I have lived in the same apartment for 18 years, which has turned it into a veritable archive of our time together. Our closets, shelves, and drawers are crammed with memories and artifacts. Many are meaningful. Some have lost their meaning; we can’t recall why we thought it necessary to hang on to them. And a few are hanging on to us. They remind us of unsettling conflicts and events that found us at our worst. There’s the note dashed off in anger, the vacation photo taken on an afternoon that went sour, the article of clothing that will forever be associated with an unkind remark from a friend or relative. We’re always surprised to find these things. The discomfort affixed to them is long gone. Yet stumbling on them still manages to churn up unpleasant emotions that open old wounds. That’s the trouble with too much stuff. Things you assumed you’d thrown out have a way of hiding in the piles. We don’t need them. We don’t want them. We don’t like them. But they’re there.
In our house, we’re most apt to find relics of conflict when cleaning up for visitors who will be with us for an extended stay. Making room for them gives us the impetus to purge our cupboards of a lot of useless nonsense, particularly things that resurrect dead ideas and deadly emotions. We actually look forward to hosting houseguests because our excitement about their arrival compels us to clear away reminders of old conflicts and unwelcome turmoil.
Advent works the same way. This is the time to sort through our stuff and toss out anything that may crowd out the Prince of Peace. Unhealthy memories and attitudes that hang on to us have to go. The peace of Christ is a costly one. It comes at the expense of long-held grudges and animosities and clinging to an unhealthy past as our means to justify nagging prejudices and behaviors. The prophet compares the coming Christ to a refiner’s fire that burns up our trash and fullers’ soap that bleaches out stubborn stains. Purged and purified, we will welcome the Babe we herald in carols of peace on earth, good will to all.
Charles P. St-Onge, a Lutheran pastor in Houston, writes
Immanuel will bring lasting, true peace. Not just an end to physical war, although that is what we usually think of when we think of peace. No, this is a deeper peace. A peace between us and God.
Two weeks from today, the Prince of Peace will arrive to make His home in us. It’s time to start cleaning house.