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Making a List, Checking it Twice
based on Malachi 3:1-4
Rev. Randy Quinn

Weíve started receiving Christmas Cards at our house, have you? I donít know how many you get each year and I donít know how many you send each year, but our list has gotten shorter over the years. Before Ronda and I were married, I was sending over 100 Christmas cards each year; together our list was enormous and needed to be cut down!

But every year we face the same dilemma. Who gets one and who doesnít? What names do we drop from our list and who will we add this year? Of the ones who get a card, who gets a personal note and who doesnít? Who gets a family picture, who gets pictures of the kids, and which cards go without any photos?

Itís a hard decision to make. And what makes it harder is that we face the same decision every year. While we do not allow money to be the primary factor in deciding who is on our list or not, itís also true that as the price of cards and the cost of postage has risen over the years we have become more and more selective Ė but we still sent about 85 cards this year.

Over the years, we have developed a set of criteria for our list, but it isnít an exact science by any means. Maybe youíve tried to apply some of the same criteria to your Christmas Card lists, too.

  • If we hear from someone some time during the year, we usually keep their name on the list.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, if we see people regularly Ė once a week or more often Ė we normally donít send a card to them. They get personal greetings instead Ė or maybe even a gift.
  • Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and grandchildren get cards. Nieces and nephews donít.
  • School teachers and bus drivers get cards. Principles donít.
  • People from the church weíre currently serving generally donít get them Ė but we answer with cards to people from churches where we used to serve.

And there are always exceptions! Anyone who looked at our list would wonder if we had any set criteria. In fact, if you listened in to a conversation we had this week about a couple of the names, youíd wonder how justifiable our decisions have been.

But itís our list. We decide who is on it and who is not.

You can offer all the advice you want about how to Ďscrubí the list to make it shorter, but our own emotional commitment to some people is going to make a more significant impact on what the list looks like than anything else.

We go through a similar exercise when it comes to gifts. Who gets a gift? How expensive will the gift be? If I send one to my sister, do I need to send one to my brother, too? Do they need to be of comparable value? What about nieces and nephews?

The hardest years for me have been when Iíve done my shopping early. On more than one occasion I was done before the first of December. And then all month long I wondered if I got enough. What if it wasnít the right gift? I would second guess myself and end up getting still more gifts.

How do you know when youíre done unless you finish on Christmas Eve and donít have anymore time to shop?

One way to know is to make a list. I start my list early, but I start my list of people and presents so I know when Iíve completed my shopping.

Sometimes that list has to be adjusted. We have two extra children this year, so we changed our list. I had planned to take our grandson shopping for a gift for his mother and ended up with a present for his mother, his grandparents, his cousin, his step dad and his dad Ė in other words, Keith changed my list, too.

Like a Christmas Card list, gift lists need to be reviewed regularly. Sometimes we need to add to them; sometimes we need to delete from them.

That purging process is difficult. The process of Ďmaking a list, checking it twice,í is a full time job for Santa because itís not easy to do. It isnít easy to refine our list and make it perfect Ė especially if our criterion is based on whom deserves a gift!

In Malachi, we are warned about the selection process that God uses. Everyone receives an invitation to the great party at the end of time. But Malachi says that not everyone will enter it. Only the pure, only the righteous, only the perfect will be admitted as guests.

And in case youíre wondering, that leaves most of us out. None are pure. None are righteous. None are perfect. No one will be admitted to the great celebration at the end of time. No one.

The invitation may go out to everyone, but no one meets the standards demanded for participation.

Except for one minor detail: Godís grace.

We had guests over to our house last night for dinner. In preparation for the event, we cleaned the house Ė we even had the carpets cleaned. Then we cleaned ourselves Ė each of the kids had their own bath, too. We put on nice clothes and we set out the fancy dishes.

But we didnít ask our guests to take a bath Ė though I suspect they all did.

We didnít ask our guests to wear clean clothes Ė though I suspect they all did.

Thatís because we invited people who already met our criteria for participating in the dinner.

At Godís grand celebration, no one meets the criteria unless God does the cleansing. No one is welcome except those God has made pure. When that day comes Ė and come it will Ė we will have no recourse other than to stand and be judged.

The good news is that God will make us pure. In fact, God has already made us pure! Thatís what Christmas is really about. God comes to us to cleanse and make us pure. God comes to us in the form of Jesus who offers to us a way to meet Godís criteria.

Itís a curious little side note, but the name ďMalachiĒ means ďGodís messenger.Ē As I was studying this passage, I wondered if we should put our own names in verse 1, so that it would read, ďSee, I am sending Randy Ė or Eunice Ė or Mary Ė or Bill to prepare the way before me.Ē

If that is the case, I believe we have three ways to prepare the way.

    1. We can offer invitations. We can make a list of people we know who need to know about Godís grace and invite them to experience life as God intends it to be lived, both in this life and the next.

    2. We can provide an example of righteousness. Godís cleansing process is thorough. It starts on the outside with the visible changes that everyone sees and ends on the inside with our attitudes, intentions, and desires. We can begin living our lives with a sense of Godís righteousness in our own actions.

    3. We can make room for grace. Itís only by grace that we can be made right, and itís only by grace that others can be made right. We need to make room for grace in our lives as well as the lives of others.

Iíve never seen it done before, but Iíve been told that in the process of refining silver, all of the crud, all of the dirt, rises to the top and can be skimmed off rather easily. But the important key is that the refiner must continually watch the silver lest the silver itself be consumed.

The refiner knows the process is complete when he can see his own image reflected off the molten metal.

What a wonderful image of Godís love and grace! God not only wants to make us pure God must stay and watch us all through the process. And then when we fully become the image of God, the process is complete.

God is making a list, checking it twice. Itís a Christmas list. Itís not just a list of wishes for the years to come; itís a list of names. On that list is your name and mine. God has invited us to celebrate in eternity. But none of us qualify to receive the gift prepared for us.

Rather than shorten the list, rather than lowering the standard, God offers to use fullerís soap and cleanse us. It will be like refining us into pure silver.

By Godís grace we can receive the gift of eternity. Itís the gift we celebrate at Christmas; itís the gift we anticipate in Advent.

Thanks be to God, for the gift of Christmas.

Thanks be to God, for the gift of Advent.

Thanks be to God, for the gift of Grace.

Amen.

 

Selected Bibliography

  • Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Nahum Ė Malachi (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching). Atlanta: John Knox, 1986.

  • Kaiser, Walter C. Micah Ė Malachi (The Communicatorís Commentary). Dallas: Word, 1992.

  • Polaski, Donald C. ďBetween Text and Sermon: Malachi 3:1-12.Ē Interpretation (A Journal of Bible and Theology). October 2000 (Vol 54, No 4).

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