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. (Malachi 3:1-4 ESV)

I grew up in Central Texas, where fall is barely discernible from winter. Summer begins sometime in March and April and ends sometime between October and November. Without warning, one day the weather is suddenly cooler, the sky is grayer, and the air is damp. A few days later, it’s warm and sunny again, and it goes back and forth like this for a few weeks before settling into chilliness for a couple months. Of course, there are a few beautiful, sunny 70-degree days scattered here and there just to remind you that you live in Texas. For the most part, winter in Texas is like fall in the Midwest, without the fall colors.

I prefer a Texas winter, but I think a Midwest fall is beautiful. Until I moved out of Texas, fall color was only something I saw in pictures, but pictures can’t compare to seeing it in person–to driving along a familiar road, coming around a bend, and being startled by the sudden burst of flaming reds and oranges. And at least in the part of the Midwest I live in, it is startling, because it begins gradually with just a few leaves turning a muted yellow, and then one day there’s a profusion of color and a familiar scene is suddenly transformed into something different, something strangely beautiful.

I never knew trees could have such shocking colors.

I truly love the fall color and watching the transformation happen. This year has been especially enjoyable as I sit daily looking out my office window at the trees across the street turning orange and yellow, and at the tree in my front yard that one day was green and the next a vivid burgundy. But now the leaves are dulling and falling. At least one tree across the street has lost almost all of its leaves. Winter is coming. The trees are growing bare, the sun sets earlier, the days become longer.

I don’t love winter. And because of that, perhaps my analogy isn’t the best. Perhaps I should speak  of springtime, when the snow melts, the ground thaws, and tiny buds begin to appear on trees and green things begin to poke out of the ground. Those are signs that my warmth-loving heart rejoices in. The signs of fall do not prepare me for joy. They prepare me for the cold and barrenness of winter.

I’m not sure that Malachi’s prophecy of a messenger preparing the way for God was one that initially gave joy to its hearers. The same could be said of Isaiah’s prophecy:

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 40:3-5, ESV)

At first, the coming of the Lord, of which the messenger proclaims, sounds a little frightening–the refiner’s fire of Malachi and the leveling of the earth in Isaiah. We know that John the Baptist was the “voice in the wilderness” and the messenger of Malachi, and his message wasn’t, “Rejoice, for the Lord comes!” but “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV).

The message of the prophets and the message of John the Baptist wasn’t just in preparation for Jesus’ birth. It’s also for us today as we prepare for Jesus’ second coming. And there is a need for repentance. There will be refining.

And ultimately, there will be rejoicing. The coming of the Lord is a beautiful thing to look forward to. As Zechariah prophesied at his son’s birth, John (who would become “the Baptist”) would:

Give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:77-79, ESV)

In your prayers today, repent of your sins and receive God’s grace and forgiveness. Thank Him for the light that shines on us and the peace that he guides us into. Ask Him to prepare your spirit for the Advent season, and to prepare your heart for His return.