Sunday, December 2, 2018

Malachi3.1-4: Some Water...But Mostly Fire

Malachi 3:1-4 refers to two occupations to help people understand what it will be like when the Lord presence is in the temple. The references incorporate two of the four basic elements: fire and water. The work involving water is a launderer. God is like fuller's soap, Malachi says. For more on the symbolism and reality of laundry and fuller's soap, click here.

But in addition to the water-related laundering parallels, there are also metalsmithing parallels. God's arrival and presence, Malachi writes, will be like a refiner's fire. Metalsmiths use fire for several different tasks. The fire is used for melting metals so that the liquid metal can be poured into molds. But before the molding process, fire can be used to purify the metal. Silver and gold can both contain impurities. Sometimes the impurities add interest. For example, copper ore mixed in with gold ore creates what we call "rose gold." However, sometimes the desired outcome is pure gold or silver, and to get that, the impurities must be removed.

The two images here are of metalsmiths in their workspaces separated by several hundred years. The top image is a photograph taken by William J. Carpenter in 1915 of a Navajo silversmith by his fire. The bottom image is St. Eligius, patron saint of goldsmiths. Notice the similarities of the tools. The Navajo silversmith has a fire and St. Eligius has a very ornate furnace to refine the metals with which they are working. The tools in the later image are very similar to those in the earlier image: tongs, hammer, anvil, engraving burins, mallets, large scales, weights, ceramic furnace, blow pipes. Design has changed over time, of course, but the methods have remained the same - which offers contemporary hearers the opportunity to understand the text and to see it in action.

We may tend to think of fire more at Pentecost or in the new fire of the Easter vigil than we do in Advent. But the candles on the Advent wreath can remind us that God works to refine us in this season as well. 

Top image: William J. Carpenter. Navajo Silversmith. c. 1915. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.
Bottom image: Master of Balaam. St. Eligius in His Workshop. c. 1450. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rijksmuseum.

It's not a Christmas carol, but check Art&Faith Matters on Facebook to see when we sing about this refiner's fire image.

For thoughts on Luke's quotation of Isaiah (Luke 3:1-6), click here.

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