It’s time for a confession: The Johnson family does not have a neat, tidy, and clean house free of dog hair most of the time. We are too busy working, going to school, and participating in activities to spend much time cleaning. This means that when we’re going to have people over, we clean the house in preparation. As a matter of fact, when I’m cleaning, my kids will ask me who’s coming over! They associate cleaning with having guests at our house!
It’s Advent, and that means it’s time to prepare for a very special guest: Jesus Christ. Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus that we celebrate on Christmas Day, and a time to reflect on Jesus’ second coming. Today, we’re going to focus on what we do to clean house and prepare for him.
God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way. Many people came out to John in the wilderness of Judea to repent and be baptized in preparation for the messiah. Among those who were present were Pharisees and Sadducees, who were members of the ruling class of Israel. There were differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees economically and theologically, and they were often in conflict with each other, but they were all in conflict with Jesus and his teachings. If Jesus succeeded, they would lose their power and prestige, and their religion would change, so they were against him. The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to keep things as they were. Jesus came so that all “could have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). In order for that to happen, things had to change.
When John saw the Pharisees and Sadducees, he chastised them and warned them what would happen if they did not repent and bear fruit worthy of that repentance. The messiah would come and baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire. John warned, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12). In other words: If you don’t clean house, Jesus will, and it might not feel so good when he does it.
Jesus is coming, and it’s time to clean house, or Jesus will do it for us. The difference between cleaning house ourselves and having Jesus do it for us is the difference between what it feels like when we do something willingly and what it feels like when we are forced to do something. When we do something willingly, we go with the flow and are supported by the Holy Spirit along the way. When we are forced to do something, we fight the flow and the Holy Spirit has a hard time supporting us because we are resisting his power! It’s like swimming with the current or swimming against it. I swam against the current in the St. Lawrence River this summer and I didn’t get anywhere. Seriously. I thought I was moving forward, but when I looked at the island to my left, I hadn’t moved at all past the point I had been at before! The only reason I made it to the boat is that the boat was coming toward me on the current. All I managed to do by swimming against the current was stay in place. The lesson: When we swim against God’s current, all we manage to do is stay in place – or, go backward! When we swim with God’s current, we move ahead with ease and grace.
Now, when I say to clean house, I don’t mean to clean our literal houses; I mean, clean our spiritual houses. The Bible tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own . . .” (1 Cor. 6:19). We house the Holy Spirit, which means that we house God! Each of us is a temple that houses God. This is why Jesus could say, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me” (Mt. 25:40), and why he said, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (Jn 14:20). Once we are disciples of Jesus Christ, we are not our own. We are temples of God. And it’s time to clean those temples.
It might sound like a lot of work to clean house in preparation for the very special guest, Jesus. But it’s not as hard as it sounds. Once we remember and honor the fact that we are not our own but are temples of God, we’ve already started cleaning because we’ve already begun repenting, which really just means that we’ve turned back to God, which means that we’re paying close attention to God, and when we pay close attention to God, we learn and grow. Inventory is taken. Closets and cupboards are opened and the contents reviewed. Things that aren’t in line with God’s will and God’s way are set aside. Things that are in line with God’s will and God’s way are taken out and put into use. Those closets and cupboards are dusted and cleaned. We’ve turned back to God and the Holy Spirit can get to work, a little bit like Mary Poppins when Jane and Michael had to clean the playroom! All of the sudden, our spiritual lives are back in order and we’ve even had some fun! We are ready to welcome our very special guest.
Whenever I read the judgment passages in the Bible, I think of something Kathleen Norris wrote about judgment because it felt so right to me when I read it. The judgment passages of the Bible can make us fearful – “What if we’re not faithful enough?” – or judgmental – “This applies to others but not to me; thank God I’m a good Christian!” But, fear and judgment are not on the list of the fruit of the Spirit that we are hoping to bear; you know, the fruit that is worthy of repentance? So, I don’t think fear and judgment are appropriate responses to the judgment passages. Norris has a whole other take on these passages. She writes, “I began to see God’s fire, like a good parent’s righteous anger, as something that can flare up, challenge, and even change us, but that does not destroy the essence of who we are. The thought of all my weeds burning off so that only the wheat remains came to seem a good thing.”
When we clean house, we just let God burn off all the weeds and chaff in our lives so that only the life-giving wheat remains. We don’t need the weeds and chaff, anyway; we’ve just gotten used them. It might be uncomfortable to let them go and embrace our wheaty selves, but once we feast on the life that wheat brings, we’ll long for the weeds and chaff no more. Repent, let God help you clean house in preparation for the Christ to be born anew in you, then sit down for a wonderful feast on Christmas morning. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, December 4, 2016, the Second Sunday of Advent.
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