"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Matthew 3:2
We have been hard at work preparing the parsonage for our Annual Christmas Open House. This is an important time when we host the congregation and community, show hospitality and give people an opportunity to take pride in the home that they have provided for us. As we began, we realized that preparing was not about "decking the halls," it actually had to start with basic cleaning of floors, walls, draperies, ceiling fans, bathrooms, and kitchen. The whole house needed a good scrubbing in order to prepare the way for this important coming.
We could have prepared by just "decking the halls." We cold have put up the Christmas tree, put lights all around, lit candles to make the air smell good, and hide all our cluttered life in closets where no one could see it. People would have come in and would probably be impressed at how pretty it all looked and they would have a great time and we could move on with our lives without having to have made a real investment in this preparation. All would have looked perfect but nothing would have really been prepared, the core, structure, the heart of the home would still be dirty, dusty, and inhospitable.
I hope you know where I am going with this, for this time of the year can be full of superficial preparation. We jump quickly to "deck the halls," to surface clean our lives, to easy joy, peace, and celebration, without going through the transformation needed, through the real preparation that Advent calls us to, a preparation for cosmic transformation, for the in-breaking of God's final kingdom of justice, of God's making all things right again in the world.
It makes sense that the prophet tells us to, Repent! Turn around, pay attention, move in a different direction, do the hard cleaning, the hard "heart assessment" needed in preparation for God's in-breaking. Only then are we really preparers of the way, only then can we "bear fruits worthy of repentance," fruits of justice, peace, and radical love.
The book of Revelation speaks words to a church that was not for God & God's kingdom or against it. This church was "lukewarm," and it leaned on its wealth for its security and for its sense of identity. In response God speaks:
"For you say, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing." You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me."
I wonder if these words from the Revelation are the prophetic words for us today? We too are rich beyond belief, we too have prospered, we too have become "self sufficient." Now God stands at our church's door, not the door of our hearts, instead at the doors of our communal life, wanting to come in and restore our meal fellowship to its subversive and radical purpose. God's love calling us to be restored by recognizing our need for God and for God's kingdom.
Advent is not for the faint of heart! It requires us to get down to the corners, to the base boards of our lives, getting on our knees to do the scrubbing needed so that our place will be prepared for the coming. Furniture has to be moved, spaces have to be de-cluttered, clothing has to be given away because new "clothing" needs to take its place. All of this hard work takes a new direction, a new way of looking at the world. Preparing requires a turning around, a re-visitation of priorities. Preparing requires that we acknowledge our need and submit to the one who makes new life possible for us and for all the created order.
Cleaning is hard work but its worth it in the end. The house looks entirely different, it glows, looks cared for, shines as a place where people really live! Even though those that come by might not know the work that went into this preparation they will enjoy the fruits of the labor. They will walk into a place that has become a home, a lived placed, a prepared place, a place ready for this coming. A place whose fruit is transformative love!
How might we prepare our lives, our communities, our world for Jesus' coming? Are we ready to do the deep cleaning or are we going to jump to "decking the halls?"
O come, O come . . .
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (v. 2)