(Malachi 3:1-4; Philippians 1:3-11) – J G White
11 am, Advent 2, Sun, Dec 9, 2018 – UBC Digby
Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas–
star and angels gave the sign.
Christina Rossetti, 1883
What kind of Good News, Gospel, do we have? Paul, of the Bible, wrote to his friends in one town, and spoke of sharing in the Gospel, the work of the Gospel. (Phil 1:3) Did you detect his tone of voice in the words of this letter?
I thank my God every time I remember you…
The One who began a good work in you will complete it…
It is right for me to think this way about you…
How I long for all of you with the compassion of X
Yes, the Good News of Christianity is a message of love – God is love, God loves us, God loves all, God does not want anyone to be wrecked. Not one person.
We are to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ – right where we live. As we serve in this way, remember this part of the Message we have to give out:
You are in God’s image – you are of God.
You are loved, so loved, so lovable.
You are valued, so valuable, you are gold!
You are becoming, becoming so amazing (not just forgiven).
Last week we explored the bad news: what’s wrong. This week: what’s right.
Jesus and the Gospel – is not just problem solving.
Some Christian teaching says that to be human is to be totally depraved. I think other Christian teachings are better. There is evil and wrong in us, yes. Yet there is beauty and good in who we are. A human, even an unsaved human, is a wonderful thing.
At a funeral last week I heard some verses of scripture well read that are very familiar to me. From 2 Corinthians 4. I could have yawned through them, in my comfortable pew. But at that moment, and not of my choosing, they hit me right in the heart. They moved me deeply.
16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure…
C S Lewis wrote a whole long essay about this, this ‘weight of glory’ that we each shall bear. This beautiful holiness of the human being – often hidden down deep inside us, that will yet be revealed. It is what we have in common with what we call God.
The Christian story – from scripture – is unique. The Creator comes into creation; God gets born as a human individual. A baby was born in Bethlehem, with the same kind of fingernails, the same kind of gallbladder, the same kinds of distractions in his brain that we all have. Our story to tell is of a Supreme Being who actually becomes one of us. That tells the world something about how worthwhile we are.
The Good News also tells us we have purpose. We are saved for good works. (Eph 2:10) Jesus did great things, we shall do greater things. (Jn 14:12) The One who began a good work in you will bring it to completion, says Philippians 1.
Another word picture in the Bible is of the refiner’s fire. How a metalworker fires up the furnace, and out comes the pure gold. So it is for humans – there is pure gold in us to be refined. We heard this today from Malachi 3 . No, we are not nothing, into which God needs to put something good; at heart we are created good and beautiful.
How do you show others that they can come out like gold? That they are precious? That they are loved! Do you believe this about yourself? Can you say, like Job did, (Job 23:10)
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold?
The season of Advent and Christmas is a season for storytelling. So here is a story. Another old- fashioned story by the Rev. William E. Barton. His tales are about a wise old pastor, Safed the Sage, and his life experiences, long ago.
This story is called ‘The Pens.’
I have a friend who is a maker of Gold Pens. And he said unto me, What doest thou know about Pens?
And I said, I live hard by a Pen, though not in one; for I am a Writer.
And he said, Come with me, and I will show thee how a Pen is made.
So we entered the Factory, and came into a room where there was a Crucible. And a man took Fine Gold and weighed it and cast it into the Crucible; and Copper he took also. And out of the Crucible came forth an Ingot.
And another man took the Ingot and weighed it, and rolled it into a Sheet. And another man took the Sheet and weighed it, and cut it into Strips. And another man took the Strips and weighed them, and out of every one of them cut he Pens an hundred and forty and four.
And another man took the Pens and curved the sides thereof. And another man cut out of every several Pen an Hole that was shaped like an heart. And another man cut in every Pen a Slit.
And every man counted the Pens that were given him, insomuch that if one Pen had been lost, or so much as a grain of gold missing, it would then have been known who had taken it.
Then did certain damsels take the Pens, and they burnished them and polished them, so that every Pen received of the labor of an hundred men and two score maidens.
And the garments that they wore are burned once in the space of three months, and from the ashes they save more than enough gold to buy new garments. And when they wash their hands the water runneth into a great Vat and settleth, so that in every month they take from the bottom of the Vat gold to the value of three hundred shekels.
Now I had watched the making of one Pen from the time it came forth in the Ingot till it was completed. And my friend took that Pen, and caused it to be set in an holder, and gave it to me. And he said, Keep it, for it is thine.
And I bowed low and thanked him.
And he filled the holder with ink.
And I spake unto him, and said, Behold, thou hast showed me a wonderful thing, and I have learned much. But I will show thee a thing yet more wonderful. For I am filling this Pen not with ink only, but with memory and creative power. I will cause this Pen to tell the story of its own creation, so that men who live a thousand miles away shall see what I have seen this day.
And he said, Thine is the more wonderful art: for the making of the Pen is not so wonderful as the use thereof.
So I took the Pen, and I wrote this parable therewith. And I remembered the gold that did not become Pens, but became dust of gold in the garments, and that flowed down the pipe into the Vat. And I prayed to my God, and said, O my God, who willith not that any of the children of men should perish, if the washings of men’s hands yield not filth only but gold to the value of three hundred shekels in a month, what canst thou do with the souls of men, in the day when hearts are tried as gold is tried in the furnace?
And I know not the answer to my prayer, but my hope is in God.
(William E. Barton, Safed and Keturah, 1921, pp. 82-84)