December 6, 2015
When we begin our worship service, the acolyte brings the light to the altar. The candles are only lit when we gather—you see, you bring Christ’s light in with you. The flame is only a symbol of the fire of Christ’s Spirit alive in each one of us. At the end of the service, the acolyte extinguishes the candles taking the light back down the aisle as a symbol that the light and fire go with you into the world as you leave. When I lead Bible study or teach a class, first thing I do is light a candle to remind us that Christ’s presence is among us, brightly burning, shedding light on our time together. Even when I enter into my own personal quiet time, I light a candle to acknowledge Christ’s presence. I don’t need the flame to see, because I have electric lights, but there is something different about candle light. It dances with my breath and with every movement of the air around me. It consumes the candle wax and releases its fragrance until it fills the room. It is not just light, it is fire, as I was reminded when my cat got too close a few years ago and it singed her tail. That was a fragrance that filled the room! Our symbol for the living presence of Christ is fire that consumes as it produces light.
In our first reading this morning, Malachi tells the people to be prepared and alert because the messenger of God will appear suddenly in the Temple, and he adds, “to purify the people like a refiner’s fire purifies silver and gold.” Our Advent candle reading today was the prophecy of the priest Zechariah about the role his son John, who would later be called the Baptist, would play in the coming of the Messiah. He acclaims, “God has remembered the holy covenant sworn to our ancestors, not only to rescue us from the hands of our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us, but that we might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before God all our days.”
It’s one thing, a wonderful thing, to be rescued from our enemies and from those who hate us. It is a wonderful thing to hear as we did a few moments ago that our sins are forgiven. But it quite another thing to hear that we are expected to be holy and righteous or that we will be subjected to something like the blast of fire that consumes the impurities in gold or silver and makes the precious metal molten and able to be molded. I grew up in El Paso, Texas where my grandfather worked for a copper refinery. Our house was located on a mesa overlooking the refinery. After dark I loved to sit at the crest of the mesa and watch as the molten slag was poured out—kind of a mini-volcano. It burned bright yellow as it was poured with great clouds of steam, then slowly cooled to orange and red. These were the impurities dumped in giant heaps while inside, the copper was molded into wire and tubing and sheets. I loved watching the slag being poured, but I never had any desire to experience the process from the inside. And yet, there is nothing less that will change and transform us so that we may serve God without fear.
There is a hymn of commitment in our hymnal that is always printed in bulletins as “Take My Life and Let It Be.” Maybe you have to come from the South to hear the idiom in that title that speaks of our real feelings about commitment to Christ. Where I grew up, “let it be” was the past tense of “leave it be” which meant leave it alone. So I heard the title of that hymn as “Take my life and leave it alone.” Forgive me, get my place ready in heaven, and then let me get on with my life the way I have grown accustomed to living it. Take my life and leave me be.
But God loves us too much to leave us be, to leave us alone when the darkness of despair has overwhelmed us or the shadow of death looms over us or one we love. God loves us too much to leave us trapped in the sins that threaten to harm us or others and doomed to repeat them until we have ruined our lives and the lives of others. God loves us too much to leave us unchanged. We cannot live in the light of Christ without being subjected to the consuming and purifying fire of the Christ’s Holy Spirit. To stay in the light, to be changed from glory into glory demands transformation—from raw ore into pure gold or silver.
We all know someone who has received a diagnosis that is potentially life threatening along with a prescription for life style changes that will restore or at least improve health and extend the quality of life. That person readily accepts a prescription for medication while continuing the life choices that created the health crisis. That person says, “Fix me, doctor, but don’t ask me to change.” Take my life and let it be. But there are others who, hearing the same message, embrace transformation for the sake of their health. Just go to the mall early in the morning before the stores open and watch the walkers to see people who choose life by releasing old behaviors. They are the health equivalent of those who allow the Great Physician to transform and heal their spirits. Transformation begins when we allow the searching light of Christ’s presence to illumine the dark places of their lives and reveal sin for what it is—anything that hurts us or others, anything that prevents relationship between us and God or others, anything that violates the God image in which we were created. Those who would be transformed are willing to submit to the decisions and life changes that lead to holiness and righteousness. They are the ones who sing the whole first line of that hymn, “Take my life and let me be consecrated, Lord to thee.” Consecrated—meaning set apart for your use, holy and righteous. Then sanctified—meaning purified so that I may serve you without fear.
Personal holiness, then social holiness.
by Brian Doerksen
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold, pure gold
My heart's one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You my master
Ready to do your will.
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from within and make me holy
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin deep within
The Lord our God is in our midst—and this is One who rejoices over you with gladness; who will renew you with a love that can consume our self-absorption, our ambiguousness, our pride, our obsession with wealth, our lack of compassion, our selfishness, and even our violence. But love will not force us. We either accept it or we turn away from it. But if we open our hearts . . .
When God’s love releases our fear and anxiety, the emotion we experience is joy!
Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Let us pray.
Take our lives and let them be consecrated, Lord, to you. Lord, we are willing to be changed and transformed from raw ore into precious gold. We want to allow the brilliance of your light that seeks out the darkness in our lives to burn our impurities to ashes so that we may serve you without fear in the holiness and righteousness in which you designed us to live. Send your Holy Spirit as a refiner’s fire not only to us as individuals, but to your church. May we be holy, ready to be used by you for the transformation of the world that your peace may come to all. God, open our hearts and heart of the world to your transforming hope. Peel back the layers of our stubborn opinions, our fearful assumptions, and let the light of your life-giving spirit enter in.