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Rachel LuDecember 23, 2021
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

A Reflection for the Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

“But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,or like the fuller’s lye.

He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD” (Mal 3:2-3).

Looking back to my earliest Christmases, what I remember are the Nativity sets. My mother loved them. She collected creches from every corner of the world, and at Christmas our house became a baby Jesus museum. Some of her figurines were intricately carved, while others were rough-hewn. There were brightly colored cloth dolls and stately, smooth-faced figurines of olive wood and soapstone. We were in no danger of forgetting the Reason for the Season. From every side, angels reminded us of the good news of Christ’s birth.

I looked at those little figurines and believed. I still believe. In our weary world, this seems almost like a miracle, inexplicable but for God’s grace.

It is strange how childhood memories can feel distant, and at the same time central to our very being. The creches are hazy in memory, like something from a fairy tale, but I know that I spent hours studying them. I looked, and I believed. I believed that that baby, revered by all nations, was God himself.

Today’s readings remind us that that baby will one day return, in a more formidable guise. He will come not as a precious infant but as a “refiner’s fire,” a blazing heat that transforms iron and steel into molten rivers. Human souls are our Lord’s precious metals. He is not threateningus in this passage because his goal is not to destroy but rather to purify, so that we can give ourselves completely to the Father who loves us. Even so, this passage from Malachi is genuinely alarming. It holds an implicit promise that this will hurt. Next to the sweetness and peace of the manger scene at Bethlehem, it feels out of step.

Thinking back on that little girl, surrounded by creches, I feel a glimmer of comprehension. That child has no understanding of the challenges that await her in life. The world she perceives is a benevolent one, filled with happy families who love one another and Jesus. Letting go of that naïve optimism will be painful. She will experience rejection, disappointment and her own shortcomings and failures. Much that seems strong and beautiful will turn out to be tawdry and flawed. Cherished beliefs will be regretfully abandoned, as harder truths take their place.

God wants us to be our best selves. Sometimes the refiner’s fire is painful, but it will prepare us for a joyful Christmas morning to come.

Lost innocence is a melancholy thing, and yet I cannot feel too sad. The memories of my mother’s creches inspire hope and wonder because it suddenly strikes me that this is one thing that has survived across those years. In childhood, I looked at those little figurines and believed. I stillbelieve. In our weary world, this seems almost like a miracle, inexplicable but for God’s grace. The angels’ message is precious to me now in a way my younger self could not possibly have grasped. Already, I have been refined. That thought helps to brace me for the challenges that still lie ahead.

God wants us to be our best selves. Sometimes the refiner’s fire is painful, but it will prepare us for a joyful Christmas morning to come.

Get to know Rachel Lu, contributing writer

1. Favorite Christmas Hymn

I love “Once in Royal David’s City,” and also “Good King Wenceslaus.” In childhood, we used to irritate our parents by singing the words to the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” which is an amusing memory.

2. Favorite Christmas Tradition

On Christmas Eve, we remove the purple ribbon from our tree and start hanging the shiny ornaments. This is also when I get out the eggnog, which I hold in reserve all through Advent as a special Christmas treat. For my kids, shiny ornaments and eggnog mean it’s really Christmas, and that is always a beautiful moment.

3. Favorite Christmas Recipe

My husband typically mans the kitchen so that I can shop, wrap and decorate, but I always find time to whip up some Nutella fudge.

4. Favorite Article You Wrote This Year

Can Catholic social teaching redeem a post-Trump, pro-labor Republican Party?

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