Tuesday of Advent II – Malachi 3:1-7b

1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? 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 sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.

In the high-status graves from the 9th and 10th centuries AD of northern Europe, archaeologists have found about 170 swords which are emblazoned with the word Ulfberht prominently worked into the blade near the hilt. We believe this was a name, not a title, and we think it was a name of the man who made the sword. In a sense, we are witnessing an early example of an artist or manufacturer creating a brand. This was a 9th century version of Nike, Apple, or Ford putting their logo on the products that they make.

Ulfberht swords were skillfully made and probably very expensive. That is why they show up in the graves of high-status men from the time. This label was akin to Rolex or Lamborghini. Ulfberht used a forging technique which created sophisticated carbon steel. This process made for a light, flexible, and hence very useful sword. A heavy sword is slow and cumbersome. It wears out the user and often is fatally slow for the user. A brittle sword might break, leaving a man holding a worthless hilt in the middle of a battle and vulnerable to his foe.

Malachi says that the coming of the Lord is like a refiner’s fire or fuller’s soap (this is akin to bleach). In order for Ulfberht to make his swords, he had to heat them to a very specific temperature in a process which melted the iron and carbon, causing them to mingle. Too hot or not hot enough, and it would not work. The sword would fail its user. God purifies us with his refining fire. Malachi speaks of purified gold and silver which is appropriate for an offering to God. Most of the swords which bear the name Ulfberht we think are forgeries. These swords are not so well made and do not have the fine, flexible steel of the genuine article. Apparently modern luxury goods are not the first to be subject to cheaply made knockoffs. There are many who would hold out for us a false promise of heavenly blessings. The man who oppresses his workers first must imagine that the money to be made will bring him true joy. The adulterer seeks something good, even quasi-divine, in that forbidden relationship. But forgeries are always just that. When push comes to shove, in the heat of our battle against sin, death, and our ancient foe, they snap and break, leaving us vulnerable and defenseless. The joy of wealth, the pleasure of this life does not last. Only one forging makes us fit for heaven: God’s forging. Amen, come Lord Jesus.

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