Advent 2A 2004 Matthew 3:1-12
Just this week a number of us were remarking about how mild the weather has been, even delightful, for this late in the fall.
We are, after all, only three weeks or less from the winter solstice and the official start of winter. But the weather has
been more like spring than fall – even the grass is still green and growing, much to my dismay. It is a surprising
and unsettling time of year. It doesn’t seem ordinary; it seems unexpected. It’s too early, much too early,
to be spring.
Advent unsettles this time of year in the arrival of John the Baptist. He’s an unsettling sort of person, not ordinary
at all. He’s a wild-eyed hippie looking young man, about 30 years old, with shaggy hair, strange smelly clothing, and
a loud voice. He comes among us, as he does each Advent, and his message sounds inconvenient, out of season.
For us, in the ordinary course of events in the late Fall, pre-Christmas, almost winter time of year it’s time to check
the furnace and turn up the heat, shop for and wrap Christmas presents, and make sure we have bags of sand for our front walks,
and John the Baptist comes along, like this unsettling spring-like weather, with an equally unsettling, even disturbing, 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. He calls it repentance.
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 the world calls the holiday season, and he demands that we start cleaning as though it were spring
— Clorox and Murphy’s Oil Soap and the whole bit. It’s unsettling and it grates on our teeth.
It could be that maybe he has a point. Maybe this old place is a bit of a wreck. Maybe there’s ample reason for this
young fellow to unsettle us, to insist that we clean house, to beg that we repent.
Probably somewhere in the spiritual residences of our lives, there are rooms that are too cluttered. And corners where dust,
and dirt, and trash have collected and piled up. Signs of ill repair, where the paint is peeling, the carpet is frayed, and
the drapes have faded. Where the windows are grimy and the walls are smudged.
The outside isn’t much better. Trash and leaves in the yard, weeds flourishing in flower beds, garages stacked up
with things we don’t need and simply get in our way, potholed lanes that need loads of gravel, siding coated in places
with mold and mildew.
And so John the Baptist holds a mirror up in front of us, and points to all of this, drags his fingers through the dust,
kicks the soda can lying on the front lawn. Pre-Christmas sale fliers are coming in the mail and newspapers and John the
Baptist wants us to spring-clean and summer yard work and house repairs.
We’re 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. We just don’t like to be unsettled. Comfortable routine – that’s the ticket.
So some of our relationships are broken, that we look on others with anger or dislike or prejudice, or no longer see them
at all? So our days and nights, hours and minutes, are so driven that we have no time for our Creator or our Savior? So stuff
fills every room of our inner selves and the desire for more so deadens our hearts. So we think everything and everyone has
a price, so we live to spend, rather than spend to live? So what if we want to control people, impose our will on them, make
them think like we do, force them into molds of our own making? So what, indeed. It’s almost winter and Christmas
and it’s my house. Leave me alone, John the Baptist. Go away; go back to the desert and stay there.
John is doing us a service pointing out that our spiritual house is a bit of a wreck and needs repair. 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 the yard, repave the drive. Throw out the stuff that’s
in our way, that keeps us from our Creator and Savior.
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 this scruffy young John. They are the time for spring-cleaning right
here in December. There are too many things, too many obstacles in our way for us to get to Bethlehem.
John tells us that before we can 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 we throw in? What can any of us throw in? We don’t need so much stuff anyway. It takes up our space. It
blocks our way. It poisons our lives. Fill the dumpster high with whatever keeps us from the Christ Child in Bethlehem,
and let the prophets haul it away.
Spring-clean our houses, your lives, this Advent: sweep every floor, wash every window, shine the brass, fill the vase
with flowers. Paint the house, clean the yard, repair the lane.
Spring-clean to a life of joy, filled with the love of God and with the God who loves us. Repent, for the kingdom of
heaven is near, very near. Clear out the hall and entry ways and 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. It would be good if it were clean when he
1. Adapted from a sermon on Selected Sermons, Worship that Works, at dfms.org, by The Very Rev. Charles Hoffacker,
Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Port Huron, Michigan.