Sermon: Advent 2, Year A
Text: Matthew 3:1-12
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It may be something to do with global warming, but November and December’s weather can sometimes surprise: one day we are wrapped up in scarves and wellies, and the next, just a light jumper will suffice. In some places the grass remains green and you almost expect the first buds to break out. And then you remember it’s 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: a young man, about 30 years old, and therefore without the dignity or gravitas that we accord to an older person; 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.
It’s time to turn up the heat, wrap Christmas presents, and make sure we have cans of de-icer for the car, and John 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 gardens and garages and storage sheds, as well. 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, plaster and cute little ideas borrowed from Changing Rooms, but that house we call our lives, our inner residence: our heart.
John the Baptist turns up, apparently from nowhere, and he impudently demands that we start cleaning as though it were spring – elbow grease, the whole works.
But John might have a point: the old place is perhaps a bit of a state. There might be 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 all kinds of rubbish have accumulated. There are signs of ill repair, where the paint is peeling, the carpet is frayed, and the curtain 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: a littered back garden, weeds flourishing where flowers used to grow, a garage that now lists dangerously to one side, a drive 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 coke can lying discarded on the front lawn. The shops and market are full of Halogen heaters, and this guy wants us to get on with the kind of cleaning reserved for later, much much later.
We may be 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 mess. He’s willing to become hugely unpopular by telling us the truth. But John is not here to win a popularity contest: He shakes the foundations of our fantasies by uttering a single word, passing on a message that comes direct from God: Repent!
It’s 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. It’s time to paint the house, clean up the garden, 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 heaven’s 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 leave out for us a HUGE bin bag of stuff that we need to deal with.
What can you throw in? What can any of us throw in? Think for a moment on this.
We don’t need that stuff anyway. It takes up our space. It poisons our lives. Put into that bin bag, 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.
(my inspiration for that little list, comes from the Book of Common Prayer Litany)
Fill the wheelie bin 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, weed the garden, throw out the clutter.
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.
And, as John the Baptist said, echoing the prophet Isaiah “Prepare the way of the Lord”