Dr Di Rayson captures our collective weariness and longing as we begin our Advent journey in 2020.
On the eleventh day of Advent, 2020, Rachael Lopez explores the slow process of untangling ourselves from injustice
The slow process of justice
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
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. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers,adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages,who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.
“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you” says the Lord Almighty.
The original hearers of Malachi’s words would have been weary. The people of Israel are looking for a saviour. They had experienced the pain of exile and had been restored, now living in the land of their ancestors. But it wasn’t how they’d dreamed it would be. They wanted God to rescue them once and for all and for life to go back to how it was.
Do you know who else is weary? God. Just before this passage Malachi tells the people “you have wearied the Lord with your words.” While God never gets worn out physically (Isaiah 40:28) he does get weary of their hypocrisy.
There are two illustrations in this part of Malachi’s prophecy. Refining silver is a complex process where the impurities are burned away. Similar to refining, fulling is part of the process in making woollen cloth and it involves cleansing the cloth to eliminate oils and dirt. Refining and fulling are both slow processes that require hard work. When the messenger who will prepare the way (John the Baptist) and the messenger of the covenant (Jesus) come, it’s not going to be sunshine and daisies like the people of Israel expected.
Earlier in Malachi, the people ask; ‘Where is the God of Justice?’ Here, God responds by asking, where are my people of justice? “I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice.” This speaks to individual sin as well as systems of sin that we often benefit from.
The Good Place, which finished up this year, was a TV show based on the afterlife and the way people got into heaven or hell was based on a point system. Spoiler alert: a few seasons into the show, the characters find out that no-one has gotten into heaven for hundreds of years and they figure out why. Ted Dansen’s character Michael says: “Life now is so complicated. It’s impossible for anyone to be good enough for the good place. Buying a tomato at a grocery store means you are unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labour, contributing to global warming. Humans think they are making one choice, but they are often making dozens of choices they don’t even know they’re making.”
As Christians living in an unjust world, we need to help dismantle the systems that exploit the poor and vulnerable. We need to try to untangle ourselves from these systems by making difficult choices. This process is complex and slow, like refining fire and fulling soap. Akin to our own journey of spiritual formation – there are no short cuts.
Our God doesn’t have a point system like we see in The Good Place. While our goodness wavers, God’s goodness and faithfulness is constant. In our weariness, God sends the messenger of the covenant to change us.
Rachael Lopez is a Melbourne-based writer. In 2020, she founded Soul Tread, a Christian magazine for book nerds, creative folk and recovering screen addicts.