2nd Sunday In Advent: What To Do When You Want To Get Out Of Your Circumstances
Ruth Bell Graham was the wife of the famous evangelist Billy Graham. Billy had of course garnered so much world-wide attention, having been seen on TV and having written so many books, and so on — but after some years, Ruth came out with her own book. And in in her book, she has a quote from a Bishop Moule that many of us would do well to remember, especially in THESE days we are living through:
“There is no situation so chaotic that God cannot, from that situation, create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at the creation. He did it at the cross. He is doing it today.”
And “today” means even TODAY — in 2022, with all the turmoil going on in the world.
There is NO situation, no matter how chaotic it may appear to us, where God cannot make something surpassingly good come out of it.
God is still about that business, and in Malachi 3, that is quoted in our gospel readings for today, reminds us of what He is doing:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 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. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former”
God prophesied specifically here about His “messenger,” John the Baptist, who would come to prepare the way of the Lord, and His Son Jesus, who would appear in His Temple.
The people of Israel were saying, “We can’t wait for Him to appear!” But Malachi was saying to them here: Listen, His coming may not be the pleasant experience you think it’s going to be! You don’t realize what His purposes are. When He comes, He will come to refine, to purify, to cleanse His people, so that they can offer to Him righteous sacrifices, which they aren’t offering now, because of their sin.
This passage is still very insightful for us today, because it shows us what God’s purposes are in this world: God is preparing for Himself a holy people, who will worship Him in righteousness. This shows us the purposes God has for the events He allows in our lives today as well. What is He doing through all the events and circumstances in our lives? We don’t have to guess; we can see here and in other scriptures what His purposes are: God uses the events and circumstances of our lives to prepare a more holy people, who will be ready for the coming of their great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
I. GOD IS USING OUR CIRCUMSTANCES
Here in Malachi 3, the Lord is talking to His people about the events that were going to happen in their nation, in the days ahead: that a messenger would come who would prepare the way (that would be John the Baptist); that the Lord Himself was going to come into their very midst (that of course would be Jesus); and that this would happen in the Temple in Jerusalem. God says I am going to use these events that will happen, to bring about My purposes. God did that then, God has done that in events all throughout history, and God is STILL doing that today. He is USING the circumstances of our times, and the circumstances in our own personal lives, to accomplish His ultimate purposes.
We see this taught all through scripture:
— Romans 8:28 says that God causes all things to work together for good, for those who love God, and who are called according to His purpose.
— Ephesians 1:11 says God works all things after the counsel of His will.
— We see an example of that here in Malachi 3, where God says He is going to use these future events for His purposes.
— We see it in the second half of Genesis, where Joseph’s brothers are envious, and sell him into slavery — but God uses even that for His purposes, to save their whole family, and advance His redemptive purposes for Israel, so that Joseph can say to his brothers at the end of that book, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring about the present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20). God used even Joseph’s brothers’ sin, for His ultimate purposes.
— Even what must be considered as THE single worst thing that ever happened, in all of human history — that we crucified the Son of God who came to us — even this was “according to the predestined plan and foreknowledge of God,” as Peter proclaimed in Acts 2, that His death on the cross would pay for the sins of all mankind.
So we see all through scripture that God uses the situations and circumstances of our lives, even (and especially). the difficult ones, for His plans and purposes. He is always using what look like “bad” things in our lives, for His ultimate “good” purposes.
So if God uses “all things” that happen, for His ultimate good purposes then we know that He is using what is going on right now in our lives as well. Despite how we may “feel” about a situation, it is not a “wasted” time. God is doing something, both in our world, and in our own personal lives, during this time.
Here is the thing— and this is something that many of us really need to hear today, and consciously adopt into our lives: God does NOT just want us to “get out” of our current situation. And I say that because I can imagine many people are praying prayers like that: “God, just get us out of this situation... “God, please just get me OUT of this.” But what you’ve got to understand is that GOD DOES NOT JUST WANT YOU TO “GET OUT” OF THAT SITUATION. THERE IS SOMETHING HE WANTS YOU TO GET OUT OF YOUR SITUATION. In God’s plan, this is not to be “wasted” time; He is doing something in this time; in you and in those around you. There is something He wants you to GET out of this, that fits in His ultimate plan.
So what is it? What does God want us to “GET” out of the situation(s) we are in? This is what we see in our next point, and it comes right out of Malachi chapter 3.
II. GOD USES OUR CIRCUMSTANCES ESPECIALLY TO PURIFY US
We see several indications in this passage of how God’s purpose is to purify His people. It says it several different ways:
At the end of verse 2 it says: “For He is like a refiner’s fire.” Verse 3 goes on to say: “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them like gold and silver.” Over and over there it tells us that God’s purpose is to REFINE His people. Most of us are familiar with this picture of the refining process: fire is used to melt down a metal, so that the impurities will rise to top and can be skimmed off, so that the metal will be pure. Malachi says THAT is what God’s purpose is with His people: it says He will be like “a refiner’s fire,” melting us down, so that the impurities in our lives can be skimmed off. That is not necessarily a comfortable process! But that is God’s purpose: to purify us!
Verse 2 also says that He is “like fuller’s soap”. This is literally, “the soap of the washers”.
A “fuller” was a person in ancient times who would clean cloth, sometimes by stomping on it with his feet, or by using different substances, to clean it. Wool, for example, would come off of the sheep very dirty, as you could imagine, and it had to be cleansed before it could be used. Many other kinds of cloth had to be cleansed as well.
In the same way, Malachi said when the Lord comes, He will be like “fuller’s soap” — cleansing His people. He’s saying, you think it’s going to be pleasant when He comes, but He’s going to come into your life like “soap;” He’s going to come into your life to clean you up! When you pour disinfectant into a wound, it can sting. In the same way, when God “scrubs us down” with His “fuller’s soap,” it will most likely be an unpleasant process but Malachi says THAT is what His purpose IS in your life: to purify you and clean you up!
So Malachi says, you THINK you want God to come and work among us. You think “the day of the Lord” will be some sweet, pleasant time. But in reality, when God works, He works on you like a washerwoman scrubbing a dirty piece of laundry! He “melts us down” like a refiner does silver or gold, to skim off our impurities. You can imagine the circumstances that God uses in our lives to “scrub us” or “melt us down”, are probably not going to be very pleasant:
— it might mean a sickness in yours or in one of your family members life
— it could mean a financial crisis or the loss of a job
— it can involve a broken relationship
But the point is, when God works on us, He often has to use unpleasant circumstances in order to “clean us up” and make us more like the people He wants us to be. We see several specific examples in scripture of how God has actually done that in people’s lives:
I think of John The Baptist who endured the hardships of living alone in the wilderness, having nothing to wear but a camels hair garment. Who exchanged the finer delicacies the world had to offer for insects to eat. He was belittled, misunderstood, and berated. All this so that He could prepare for the Lords coming.
I think of Mary, Who surrendered any plans she may have had in order to be a part of God’s Big Plan, and she was willing to sacrifice to do so. She nearly lost her fiancé, and she probably faced social rejection within her community. By saying “yes” to God, in her own way, she was preparing the Lords coming. She knew the goodness of God’s purpose was worth the sacrifice.
We need to remember that this is the kind of thing God does with our circumstances. You NEVER just “happen” to have something happen in your life. There are no coincidences for Christians. GOD is orchestrating every situation, every circumstance, even (and especially!) the difficult ones, for His purposes, to “clean” you; to “refine” you; and to prepare you for Emanuel's (meaning God with us) coming. So when we come into these times, as we said a minute ago, DON’T just ask God: “Get me out of this,” but ask Him: “God, what do You want me to GET out of this?” What lessons do You want me to learn? What sin needs to get out of my life? What new direction do You want to take me as a result of this?