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On Sunday I will be preaching on this text from Malachi 3

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

I have been thinking and pondering the whole concept of Fuller’s Soap for the last 3 weeks.

  •  Advent is about preparation, where we prepare our hearts for the arrival of our Savior.
  •  Advent is about repentance, and we will get that message loudly and clearly next week Sunday as John rails against that brood of vipers who will not hear the word of God.  
  • But Advent is also about cleansing.  

There are those of us, who are people who try to live in God’s way.  But sometimes we just fall into error.  Sometimes we hurt people.  Sometimes we betray God.  We don’t mean to, it is just part of the human condition.  And when we come before God and ask for forgiveness, we have a certain-sure hope that he will hear our prayer and forgive us.

Yet in our humanness we can also be prone to taking that forgiveness for granted and indulge in what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”.  

For that reason I am quite taken with the image of Fuller’s Soap, and along with all that it means as a metaphor for realigning our relationship with God.  In Biblical Times Fuller’s Soap was used for cleansing and preparing wool.

Wool was cleaned and bleached before it was made into clothes. It was also whetted and beaten into shape for the garment maker. A Hebrew translation of a fuller’s business refers to the alkali used by those cleaning new cloth.  ( See www.ehow.com for the whole article)

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Washed, whetted and beaten into shape.  Wow that sounds painful.  As I pondered this I came upon the images from old movies, you know the ones in black and white that we watched when we were children, and the classic bathtub scene.

The youngster–usually a boy who is full of vim and vinegar–comes home covered head to toe in mud, dirt and leaves and may be a little bit of pitch.  And his mother fills a tub, dumps him in the water gets out the lye soap and a scrub brush and energetically scrubs him in the effort to cleanse him.    All pink and scrubbed clean he is clothed in clean pj’s and sent off to bed.

But the cleanliness does not last.  After all boys will be boys and there are forts to build and mud puddles to jump in and trees to climb.  And the dirt will stick, and another thorough scrubbing will be needed.

So it seems to me that submitting to the spiritual cleansing of Advent is a lot like submitting to a loving parent who will scrub and scrub until we are clean and glowing and sweet smelling.  Yes the bathing process may involve discomfort and pain but the end result is so worth it.

I pray that this Advent I will become more aware of my own inclination to sin, and be willing to lay that sin before God, and willing to allow him to work to cleanse my heart and prepare me for the journey of faith and ministry that is yet to God.  

I pray that the work of Advent having been completed I will be able to sing with joy and confidence on Christmas Eve these words from Joy to the World:

No more let sins and sorrow grow,
nor thorns infest the ground (my soul)
He comes to make his blessing flow
Far as the curse is found

My prayer for you is that you will also find yourself cleansed and prepared and eager to know the full forgiveness of our redeemer.  May your Advent be blessed.