See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Do you consider fire a good thing or a bad thing? We see in nature all the time how destructive fire is. Even now, wildfires are burning out of control in Sidney, Australia, and 2018 saw the deadliest fire season on record in California. And yet, fire has always been a gift to mankind, providing warmth and light, enabling humans to cook food and forge tools out of metal. Fire proves metal, burning off any impurities in it. There would be no modern technology if man had never worked with fire. Out of control, fire is one of the most destructive forces on the planet. But under control, fire is one of the most powerful forces for creation known to man.
In today’s readings, the prophet Malachi is talking about fire, about the Lord’s wrath blazing like an oven. He talks about the evildoers being reduced to stubble. But he also describes this same blazing oven as the sun of righteousness rising with healing rays for the just. When God comes, he comes with light and power. He comes with fire. He comes able to separate us from our sins. He comes to burn out our impurities. If we let him, he can burn out from us everything that is separating us from him. In this age, we have the choice. We can offer our impurities up to God and subject ourselves to the fire of his love. His blazing oven can be healing for us so that we can become more like him. If we resist the fire, we do not have the same chances for healing that he offers us. Our souls become putrid as we resist God’s cleansing, like an infection out of control.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus talks about the age to come. Before he comes again he tells us that the heat will be turned up. He exhorts us to not be afraid, not in the face of wars, not in the face of persecution, and not in the face of God’s judgment. All will be judged and tried by fire. But the just are the ones who have subjected themselves to the fire before and allowed God to purify them. So God has made them strong for the end times and for the age to come. We all have that opportunity. We can take God up on his offer and be made more like him. The only question that remains is, will we resist and cause the fire of God to be a destructive force for us? Or will we allow God’s fire to be a force of his creativity in us?