Today may we consider what it means to find springtime in December. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In many parts of the country, late fall weather can be surprising. In fact, it can seem like spring. Temperatures can be unseasonably mild and people can even walk around in their shirtsleeves or light jackets. In some places the grass remains green and you almost expect the first buds to break out. And then you remember itâs December, not March.
Spring surprises us again this morning, not in the temperature, but in the arrival of John the Baptist. Try to picture him: heâs a young man, about 30 years old, with shaggy hair, strange clothing, and a loud voice. He comes among us, as he does each Advent, and his message sounds inconvenient, out of season.
Itâs time to turn up the heat, wrap Christmas presents, and make sure we have bags of de-icer for our front walks, and he comes along, like the freakish spring weather we sometimes experience late in the year, with a contrary message. He wants us to start spring-cleaning our houses. He wants us to take on one room after another, and not only our homes, but our lawns and garages and storage sheds, as well. In a word, what this scruffy young man wants us to do is repent.
For what does repentance mean, if not a thorough, insistent cleaning of the house in which we live, not the structure of brick and stone, shingles and siding, but that house we call our lives, our inner residence, our heart? John the Baptist shows up, here in what we call the holiday season, and he impudently demands that we start cleaning as though it were springâMurphyâs Oil Soap and the whole bit.
But consider: maybe he has a point. Maybe the old place is a bit of a wreck. Maybe thereâs ample reason for this young fellow to call us to account, to insist that we clean house, to beg that we repent.
Probably in all of our spiritual residences, our lives, there are rooms that are dominated by clutter. There are corners where dust, and dirt, and trash have accumulated. There are signs of ill repair, where the paint is peeling, the carpet is frayed, and the drapes have faded. Windows are grimy; they barely let in the light of the sun. Such are the conditions on the inside.
The outside is no better, though it is more public. Trash in the yard, weeds flourishing
where flowers used to grow, a garage that now lists dangerously to one side, the driveway that begs to be repaved, walls that wait for scraping and fresh paint.
John the Baptist comes along, rude fellow that he is, and points to all of these defects, drags his fingers through the dust, kicks the soda can lying on the front lawn. Snow blowers are appearing for sale, and this guy wants us to go into spring-cleaning, summer yard work, enough warm weather repair to fill a season.
Weâre willing to overlook the whole wretched mess, at least for now. John may be upset about it, but the state of our residence, our spiritual life, our heart, is no concern to us. We call this condition the lived-in look, comfortable, the way we like it.
So what, we say, that some of our relationships are broken, that we look on others with rage or cold contempt, or perhaps no longer see them at all? So what, we say, that our days and nights, hours and minutes, are so driven that we have no time for our Creator or our children? So what, if stuff so fills every room of our inner selves, if the desire for more so deadens our hearts, that we think everything and everyone has a price, that we live to spend, rather than spend to live? So what if we see people as disposable, and our own violence as justified, and winning is all that matters, so that somebody suffers for our indulgence and impatience, though unheard by us?
John is doing us a service pointing out that our spiritual house is a bit of a wreck. Heâs willing to become mighty unpopular, a Class A nuisance, by telling us the truth. He shakes the foundations of our fantasies by uttering a single word, passing on a message that comes from God: Repent!
Itâs time to clean house, he tells us. Time to sweep the floors, wash the walls, air the rooms, repair what is broken, replace what is no longer useful. Itâs time to paint the house, clean the yard, repave the drive.
John demands that we make a lot of changes, expend a great deal of energy, get down on our hands and knees to clean the corners. He insists on all this because something is different. He insists that we clean house because somebody is coming. He calls us to repent because heavenâs kingdom is near. He wants us to sweat and struggle, do thorough spring-cleaning even in December, because he knows the results will be worth it.
These days of Advent are like that if we dare listen to that scruffy young man, John. They are the time for spring-cleaning right here in December. Before we get to the barn in Bethlehem, most all of us have to wake up to how our own spiritual house, our own lives, are worse than any self-respecting barn, and they plead for us to clean them.
So, John tells us, before we go piously through the silent night to meet the Holy Family at the manger, we have to endure how he and the rest of the prophets drag in and plop on our front lawn a huge metal container, big as a boxcar, to take all the trash we need to dispose of.
What can you throw in? What can any of us throw in? We donât need that stuff anyway. It takes up our space. It poisons our lives. Put into that waste container, then, every odious instance of pride, hypocrisy, and impatience from your life. Put into it every instance when you have exploited others. Put into it unholy anger and sick green envy. Put into it lust for people and for things, dishonesty in everyday relationships, negligence in prayer and worship, every failure to live your faith, every refusal to take a good and holy risk. (This list of sins is based in part on the Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitence in The Book of Common Prayer, pp.267-68.) Fill the dumpster high, and let the holy prophets haul it away.
Spring-clean your house, your life, this Advent: sweep every floor, wash every window, shine the brass, fill the vase with flowers. Paint the house, clean the yard, repave the drive.
Spring-clean yourself to a life of joy. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near, very near. Open the front door and welcome in the child of Christmas, the man of Easter, the king of glory: For he wants to dwell with you forever.
In the name of the One whose kingdom is on its way to us: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.