As we have been looking at the prophet Malachi, notice he does not say that the Messiah who was to come was going to come in and destroy their enemies or restore their national identity or power. Jesus’ primary mission in coming to earth was to purify His people.
“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. 3 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.” Malachi 3:2-3 (ESV)
Malachi uses two images to describe what the Messiah is going to do when He comes. First, he is going to cleanse His people using fuller’s soap. I hope I’m not the only one who had to look that one up in the dictionary. A fuller is one who “cleans, shrinks, and thickens, or dyes cloth or newly shorn wool.” He would do this using strong lye soap, after which the clothes would be placed on rocks and beaten with sticks. I don’t know about you, but it does not strike me as a pleasant experience to be placed on a rock and beaten with sticks.
The second image Malachi uses is that of the refiner’s fire. What does it mean to pass through the refiner’s fire? In the refining process the blacksmith would take a precious metal and literally burn out all the impurities and imperfections. What does this tell us about Christmas, why Jesus was born? It means that when He came, to borrow from Gary Thomas, his purpose was not to make his people happy, but to make them holy.