“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” (Malachi 3:1-3)
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God… ’ (Luke 1:68-79)
These are themes not associated in the popular mind with Christmas. Nevertheless, Advent is, of course, preparation not only for a remembrance of Christ’s first coming as a baby, but also for Christ’s second coming, in power and glory. We live between the two. Isn’t it amazing that we (we Christians!) face the coming of Christ so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the “Day of the Lord”? We have insulated ourselves by such an emphasis on the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the least shiver of fear that God is coming. We’ve become so blasé about the whole message, since we’ve carefully abstracted the “Happy Christmas” side of things and forgotten the serious side, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only Good News, but first of all scary news for everyone who has a conscience.
Perhaps we have to feel that scariness before we can understand the kindness. God is coming into the very midst of evil, to judge the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, and comes to us with grace and love.
It is fitting to think about this today, as we move through the season of Advent. God is coming. God is coming as a baby in Bethlehem, but God is also coming again “in glory to judge the living and the dead,” as the Nicene Creed puts it.
So how do we respond? I remember a children’s story on this, which began: “Imagine if the Queen were visiting your house. Excitement, pride, mixed up with nervousness and trepidation.”
No, no: let’s try a different picture: imagine if a head social worker was visiting your house and if you failed to pass muster, he had the right to take your children away. Do you see the difference? We can exclude the nervousness factor in the first picture and concentrate on the excitement and pride, but in the second? Any reasonable person should feel at least some fear. Am I really up to the mark? Will I pass inspection?
Lord, I recognise the scariness of that first phrase above. Who indeed can “endure the day of your coming?” But I am so grateful for the kindness of the last phrase, that you have come to us, and rescued us “because of the tender mercy of our God…”
I am so glad that I can anticipate your coming with excitement, relief and pleasure.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
Clip from Ken & Val’s book This Hope we Have