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John the Baptist

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Mark 1:1-8
2nd Advent (4.12.2011)

I’ve had a bit of a spring-clean this week! Not because the weather has been unseasonably mild but because I had the Bishop coming to pay me a visit! Despite having only lived here for about 10 months I was a bit horrified at how much clutter and dust there was in my study and I did need to do quite a lot of clearing out before I could clean it up. Yuk!

And the arrival of John the Baptist in our Gospel reading this morning also invites us to do a bit of spring-cleaning too. Try to picture him: he’s 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, his message sounding inconvenient, and out of season.

A good many of us will be thinking it’s time to turn up the heat, wrap Christmas presents, and make sure we have bags salt/grit for our front paths, and he comes along, like a bout of freakish spring weather with a very different 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, garages and 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 cleaning of the house in which we live, not those of brick, but the house we call our lives, our inner residence, our heart? John the Baptist arrives at the beginning of winter and demands that we start cleaning as though it were spring, mops, buckets, rubbish sacks and Flash - the lot.

Consider: maybe he has a point. Maybe the old place is a bit of a wreck. Maybe there’s good reason for this rough cut man to call us to account, to insist that we clean up our house, to beg that we repent.

Probably in all of our spiritual residences, our lives, there are rooms dominated by clutter. Corners where dust, dirt, fluff and all sorts have piled up. There are signs of bad repair, peeling paint, frayed carpets, and faded curtains. Windows are grimy barely letting in the light of the sun. This of course is what it is like on the inside.

The outside, though more public isn’t much better. Mucky bits in the yard/patio, weeds flourishing where flowers used to grow, a garage that has no room for wheel barrow let alone a car. A driveway that has cracks, doors and walls that are waiting for fresh paint.

John the Baptist comes along, noisy, rude fellow that he is, points to all of these defects, drags his fingers through the dust and kicks the beer can lying on the front lawn. Sledges maybe appearing in the shops but he wants us to begin spring-cleaning and summer garden work, with enough work to do to fill a whole spring and summer.

Maybe 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 not really a concern to us. We call this condition the lived-in look, comfortable, it’s the way we like it.

So what, if some of our relationships are broken, if we look on others with anger, dislike or perhaps no longer see them at all? So what that our days and nights are so busy we have no time for our loved ones let alone our Creator? So what, if stuff fills every room of our inner selves and the desire for more has deadened our hearts? So what if we look down our noses at people, see them as unimportant or our anger or jealousy as wholly justified. So what if our success or achieving is all that matters? Others may suffer because of our indulgences and impatience, but we just don’t hear them? (the chocolate we buy that cause slavery comes to mind) John is doing us a service pointing out that our spiritual house is a bit of a wreck. He’s willing to become really unpopular, worse than Craig Revel-Horwood, by telling us the truth. He shakes the foundations of our lives, uttering a single word, a message from God: Repent!

It’s time to clean your house. Sweep the floors, wash the walls, air the rooms, repair what’s broken, replace what’s no longer useful and clear out the surplus clutter you don’t need. It’s time to paint the house, clean the yard, repave the path and tidy the garden.

John demands that we make a lot of changes, use a lot of energy, get down on our hands and knees to clean the corners. He insists we do this to our 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 hairy and unkempt man, John. December really is the best time for this sort of spring-clean. Before we get to the stable in Bethlehem, most of us have to wake up to how our own spiritual house, our own lives, are worse than any self-respecting barn, and they cry out for us to clean them. It’s true the stable was messy, its true that God comes to meet us in the messiness of this world. But, John tells us, before we go tiptoeing religiously through the silent night to meet the Holy Family at the manger, we should wake-up and notice John, and the rest of the prophets, dumping a big skip-like container in front of our house to take the rubbish we need to be rid of.

What can we throw in this skip? What don’t we need that takes up space and dirties our lives. We need to throw out all of our pride, hypocrisy, and impatience. Every instance when we might have exploited others, been rude and angry or green with envy.

Put into it too our lies and dishonesty in everyday relationships, negligence in prayer, worship, Bible study, failure to live our faith, every refusal to take a good and holy risk. Fill that skip. Let the holy prophets take it away.

Spring-clean your house, your life, this Advent: sweep every floor, wash every window, shine the brass, and fill the vase with flowers. Paint the house, clean the yard, repave the drive.

Spring-clean yourself into a life of joy. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is 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.

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