In the preindustrial Biblical world, someone in the fuller trade spent hours agitating loosely woven wool fabric for hours in vats of ashes, clay, chalk, or urine. This work chemically treated the fabric making it fuller and knitting the weave tighter. The work was done by hand with the fuller either agitating the fabric with cedar branches or stomping the wool while standing in vats of smelly liquids. The pummeling removed the smelly sheep grease while the pungent chemicals bleached and tightened the cloth. It was grueling, repetitive, and smelly work, but the agitation produced a durable, tight-knit, water wicking fabric ready to be dyed and sewn into beautiful clothing. Malachi invites us to imagine God or God’s word as a fuller agitating unfinished fabric in a smelly soapy vat. Could a place fuller’s soap ornament on your Christmas tree?
Malachi speaks of advent or God’s arrival:
Behold, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way!
Suddenly the Lord whom you seek will come to the temple!
But who will be able to endure the day of God’s arrival?
Who can keep standing when God’s messenger appears?
For God’s arrival is like a refiner’s fire or a fuller’s soap.
God will sit scrubbing, refining, and purifying;
God will purify and refine us.
The Hebrew word “Malachi” means “my messenger.” We do not know if there was a Malachi or when the book was written. Malachi comes with 22 questions in 55 verses or ⅖ of verses are questions. Malachi, and the people trade questions and accusations. The Lord says, “I love you,” but you say, “How have you loved us?” The people ask, “Have we not all one creator, then why are we faithless to one another? Where is the God of justice? What profit is there in righteous living? Why do the wicked prosper?” Malachi reports that the Lord listened attentively and that the people’s grievances were recorded before God in a book of remembrance. That is a lovely image: our grievances given to God in worship.
The people long for God to show up and fix a broken world. Malachi could be written today. Malachi warns that the day of God’s arrival may not be the gentle bubble bath they imagine. Malachi says God’s arrival is like scrubbing with a stiff brush and abrasive soap- a holy scouring. Matthew 23 tells us the prophetic voice usually rubs church folks the wrong way. The prophetic voice from Jesus, Malachi, or Dr. King can feel abrasive even as it scrubs away our everyday idolatries, comforting inconsistencies, and self-serving blind spots. When God’s Holy Spirit comes into the center of our relationships, bank accounts, and careers we will feel some spiritual burn. The Spirit troubles the waters. Who can endure the day of God’s arrival? Who will dare pray Jesus’ Advent prayer, “Lord, not my will, my wants, or my privileges, but Lord your kin-dom come, your will, your justice be done through me”? (Matthew 6; 26) Will we allow Christ’s kin-dom to realign our living?
God’s appearance (God’s Advent) in the center of our lives is always a call to repentance, transformation, and change. Some church folks weaponize the word “repentance”. They twist repentance into a mean-spirited, judgmental, attack advertisement. Such weaponized notions of repentance lack love, grace, or humility. Such hard hearted theologies forget Jesus’ command to not judge. (Matthew 7) When has judgment changed anyone? How can shame shape us into the image of God? Authentic repentance appears within us as a deeply personal matter. The Holy Spirit stirs us to scrub away everything less than love. To repent means simply to realign our wants, desires, and hopes around God’s Love and call to love neighbor, stranger, and enemies. Repentance reorients us to God’s love and our best selves. In direct opposition to shaming, true repentance arises within us and implies spiritual self-confidence for we believe we can change with God’s help. Repentance might be best encapsulated in Jesus’ daily advent Prayer, “Lord your kin-dom come, your will be done.”
Can we endure the day of God’s advent? Will we allow the prophetic solution to scrub the idolatrous grease and selfish gunk from our lives? Will we apply Malachi, John the Baptizer or Jesus’ stronger soap? Will we pray a soul scrubbing prayer?
- Come, Holy One, scrub away our sorcery. Sorcerers believe/pretend that they can manipulate the universe by use of magic words/formulas. You can find plenty of Christianized sorcery in the Prosperity Gospel aisle.
- Come, Perfect Love, cleanses us of all adultery. Adultery is about failing to honor those with whom we made covenants to love, honor, and uphold. Scholars think Malachi’s harsher verses about adultery are allegories for idolatry. Both idolatry and adultery involve forgetting our core values, vows, and our promises to beloved people, churches, and ourselves.
- Come, God of Justice, roll like the mighty waters washing away all false testimony from our lips, courtrooms, contracts, advertisements, politics, and relationships.
- Come, God of the Poor, end our clever accounting tricks that cheat the day laborers out of their wages. The Levitical code imperfectly but constantly sought to protect vulnerable workers from rich and powerful people. (Leviticus 25)
- Come, God of marginalized people, purify every system that oppresses widows, women, children, and every other outsider.
- Come, God of every tribe and nation, come against those who brush aside the foreigner. How can we “brush aside the foreigner” or preach a nationalistic theology and uphold God’s golden rule? (Matthew 7:12) Let us wash all kinds of homogeneous grime from our minds!
- And finally, Malachi prays, “Lord, wash out any idea or practice not rooted in reverence for God. That might be the great sin scrubbing test of all our actions asking, “Lord, is this reverent; does this decision, tone or purchase honor God, others, and creation?”
Now the good church folks did not quibble too much over the first six abrasive cleaners Malachi offered up, but the people rejected the prophets seventh harsh word. I imagine they said, “Wait, what did you say? Now, we may trust our magic formulas, not keep our vows, lie a little, game workers, not address poverty or invest in education, and not welcome foreigners, but are you saying we do not have reverence for God? How can you say we are not Christians? Listen, Malachi, we go to church; we have the culturally appropriate bumper stickers on our cars!
Malachi’s answer gets very specific, very intimate, very pocketbook. Malachi says, “Open up your checkbooks, look at your bank statements, pull out your spreadsheets, how are you spending your money? Are you giving 10% of your income to build God’s kin-dom? Does your Visa card pray, ‘Lord, not my desires, our wants, or our possessions, but Lord, your values, your world, and your kin-dom come?’” What prayer does your Visa statement pray? The prophetic word often rubs us the wrong way for it exposes our deeper idolatries.
Finally, after all this airing of grievances between the prophet, people and God, Malachi ends with a hopeful promise about when God’s advent might appear:
On the day of God’s arrival, you will again be able to distinguish between righteous and wicked lifestyles, between those serving God and those serving only themselves. And the sun of righteousness will rise on those revering God’s name; healing will be in its wings. And you will go forth and jump about like children rejoicing on the playground. And you will crush wicked systems…
How will Malachi‘s day of holy justice, community, and hope arrive? When will the God Of Justice show up? Perhaps, Advent arrives when we invite God into the center of our hearts, our values, and our decisions. Maybe our Advent begins when we radically scrub our lives of everything less than love.
Maybe Advent comes when we invite God into the very center of our decisions, conversations, spending and work…
Come, Creator, scrub away my magical thinking so I might build Your kin-dom.
Holy One, purify me from my idolatries so that I can live out my deep convictions.
Holy Spirit, scour my lips of easy untruths, so I can speak with love
Holy Justice, wash away my greed that holds laborers down, so others have enough.
Christ of the manger, agitate my hard heart until I see you in every widow, orphan, and stranger.
Refugee Jesus, erase our nationalism so that we never again brush you aside.
Giver of Life, purify my pocketbook, so I invest myself in your kin-dom.
Come, Holy One, scrub away my tepid faith so I can revere you and all you made.
Perhaps, when we learn to pray asking God to appear in the center of our decisions, such soul-scouring prayers create enough room for God’s Advent to enter our hearts and communities. Maybe these harder prayers scrub away everything less than love. Maybe these prayers begin building God’s kin-dom within us and Jesus promises “that even the gates of hell* cannot resist that kind of community rooted in Love. Amen.