"For God is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; God will sit and refine them until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness." - Malachi 3:3-4
Every Advent, the prophets remind us that God is disgusted by piety divorced from justice. But because we keep divorcing them, God has to sit down (because it's going to take a lot of time and patience), fire up the furnace, and burn away our dross. And God has to scrub us with harsh soap until we carry out, without separation, right worship in church and right action in the world.
Year after year, it's the same message—if you're indifferent to your neighbor, then you sing, sacrifice, and pray at your peril. We know that. We've heard it before. And we're trying, Lord, we're trying.
So why does the church keep saying it year after year?
For the same reason you tell family stories over and over—so that you'll memorize what matters most, so that you'll remember who you are, so that your children will know who they are.
And because if the church doesn't say it, fewer and fewer people will say it, until there's only silence. Ask someone struggling for justice about the terror of that silence, the awful things that happen when no one utters a word.
And because there's knowing, and then there's knowing. One kind fills your head with interesting ideas. The other penetrates, aims for your fault lines, and leaves you so shattered you require divine rearrangement.
You could hope for nothing more than to find yourself in shards like that; for Scripture also says that God will not pass by a broken heart.
Say them over and over to me, wonderful words of life. Let this be the year they break my heart. Amen.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.