Thursday, December 15, 2005

Beauty for Ashes, Joy for Mourning

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by Your daily visitation, that Your Son Jesus Christ, at His coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for Himself; Who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This is the collect for the fourth Sunday of Advent from the Book of Common Prayer. I was curious about the word "Purify" in this prayer.

First off, there are basically two Greek words translated "purify" in the New Testament. The first and most commonly used is the word katharizo, which means to make clean or cleanse (from physical dirt like washing a dish) and in a moral sense to free from defilement or to purify from wickedness. This word is most often translated "cleanse" as in cleanse the lepers.

The second word is hagnizo, which means to make pure, purify or cleanse. This word is used seven times in the New Testament and every time it is translated "purify." But I was still curious what was involved in purification, so I looked up the gold purification process. ( Special thanks to Daniel Ballard and Robert Lumabao of Precious Metals West both for the image and the description. Check out the whole process at their website

This is the so-called Aqua Regia process, which is commonly used for the scraps and flakes that jewelers have left over or sweep off their counters and floors when they work on gold jewelry.

First, they melt the gold into a liquid and pour it into water to get pieces that look like cornflakes. They don't cook it too long. The technician pours it from a ladder so it will cool a little before it hits the water. And he uses as cold water as possible.

Next they make sure the gold is totally dry and add acid to the gold flakes. The solution is 300 ml nitric acid and 700 ml of hydrochloric acid. This solution works over heat and the acid makes all the metals in the gold come loose, so that it separates into gold and other stuff. The reaction eventually stops, and then more acid is added to make sure all the gold separates. The technician makes sure that all of the metal is dissolved. When it is all dissolved, then the heat is lowered and filings are added to the scraps.

The dissolved gold and silver chloride is filtered to separate the gold from the silver. Then the gold is precipitated. Then another acid is added to reduce the aqua regia. The reaction produces some brown smoke and when the smoke is clear the reaction is done.

Hydrogen sulfate is then added to the solution and produces a violent bubbling reaction. But you can begin to see striated layers of gold, acid and foam. The foam contains black pieces of junk that "rains out" when the gold starts to drop out of the foam. The distillate is black when they are finished. They then turn up the heat and clean it. This produces a 24-karat gold "sponge" which is then put back on the heat for about six hours.

This process can produce gold of 99.99 percent purity, which can then be melted and poured or shaped into whatever form the jeweler desires.

Think about what you are asking God to do. Purify your conscience by His daily visitation. You are basically asking God to take the heat and the acid to your life and clear out all that is impure. Do you think that might involve some pain? It will definitely involve not getting your way. But then it produces a "mansion prepared for Himself." The question we have to ask ourselves is "do you really mean it?" When we pray this prayer, are we serious?

There are several Scripture passages that relate to this process, but I chose this one from 1 Peter 1:3-6: According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God's power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith - more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire - may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Though the purification process might be painful, and we might wonder how long the acid is going to cook us, this verse holds the promise that it will produce a faith that God cherishes. Isn't that something!

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