Advent 2013 – Baruch 5:1-9/Philippians 1:3-11/Luke 3:1-6
In the reign of Caesar, Richard Daley the First, I grew up just a few blocks from the Chicago City line. In those days we called it, “The City That Works.” It was not uncommon, especially come election time, for Caesar Daley to order the filling of pot-holes, paving or re-paving of streets, and the demolition and leveling of derelict buildings just before making a campaign visit to a particular neighborhood. It’s one of the things Mayor Dixon has been particularly good at making happen in Baltimore when not distracted by shopping.
As Luke reminds us, this is a time-honored tradition among those in Power – whole roadways and construction projects would precede the visitation of a visiting Caesar, King, or Emperor to the various outposts of his kingdom.
Over five hundred years before the time of John and Jesus, Isaiah used the image of such Imperial Public Works total makeovers to describe the Hopeful coming day that God would lead the exiled people of God back to Jerusalem from Babylon – Babylon itself a metaphor that from the time of the Babylonian Captivity through the Revelation to John to modern day prophets and poets demanding deliverance from captivity to such things as colonialism, consumer-driven capitalism, red-lining debt and mortgage practices and the like. A quick listen to the likes of Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur and Common, to name just a few, reveals the continued potency the image of Babylon still conjures in the popular imagination. There are those prophet/poets among us who see us still being in captivity.
So the idea in Luke is much the same as Isaiah tells it: a total makeover, a full scale public works project, is needed if it can be hoped that God will again deliver us from our captivity to Sin. That is Sin, not sins. The latter are particular deeds such as appear on Santa’s list of those who have been naughty. Yet, these are merely symptoms of a deeper, underlying spiritual disease that is Sin, capital “S” and singular – Sin is the state of chosen alienation from God, when we turn to ourselves and away from God, insisting on having our own way with no restraint from outside and beyond ourselves. This understanding of Sin, capital “S,” might also be spelled, “Ayn Rand,” or, “Objectivism,” or, any number of other “isms” that we use to disguise this alienation from ourselves.
We may as well admit it though, some see this as “freedom” and “the American Way.” But this is to deny the fact that true human freedom comes from accepting our status as creatures who look to their creator as the source of the fullness of life – the God in whose image we are created. As the Book of Common Prayer puts it, “In whose service is perfect freedom,” which words are engraved on the outside of The Episcopal Church Headquarters at 815 Second Avenue, NY, NY!
My favorite Advent prayer says, “Stir up thy Power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.” I always envision a pot of soup on the stove, all the good stuff falling to the bottom, and needing to take a long-handled wooden spoon to stir it up and put it back together again. We pray for God to stir us up – even though we rarely want to be stirred up at all.
Enter the makeovers. It seems that Cable Television is one long Advent project what with every kind of “Total Makeover” show imaginable. One of my favorites is What Not To Wear, starring Stacy London and Clinton Kelly. They come into your world by surprise, make you throw out your entire wardrobe, and give you a, get this, $5,000 gift card to purchase all new clothes!
As relates to repentance and preparing for the coming of God’s Salvation, Baruch announces: “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction…and put on forever the beauty of the glory of God. Put on the robe of righteousness…the diadem of the glory of the everlasting…for God will show your splendor everywhere..[and] give you evermore the name, ‘Righteous, Peace, Godly Glory!’” Now that is a call for a true wardrobe makeover!
Regular prayer, Bible Study and Mindfulness Meditation can play the roles of Stacy and Clint coaching us on a total makeover, which ultimately is never about clothes at all, but rather helping and empowering people to become the best version of themselves – the people God wants them to be!
This leads us to perhaps the contemporary icon of total personal transformation, Ty Pennington. Yes, he of Extreme Makeover – Home Edition. Many of us are familiar with what he does for other people whose lives are in need of extreme assistance. But what we don’t know much about is his personal transformation. In his own words his childhood was unruly to say the least: “I would strip down naked, and hold on the blinds in my classroom as a child and swear along with that if I didn't get my way. I was just a very bad kid overall, I don't know how my mother raised me!” His mother, while studying to become a psychologist, eventually diagnosed him as ADHD, and in a few years found treatment modalities that has transformed him into what he is now: an American television host, model, philanthropist, and, get this, a carpenter. Beyond the TV show, he works with any number of philanthropic endeavors to make life better for others.
Kind of like the carpenter we await in Advent. Make no mistake about it, Advent is a time to take inventory as a nation and as individuals: are we prepared for that day when we are promised Jesus will come again? Have we prepared a landing strip that is level and straight to bring him all the way into our hearts and souls?
No one can deny, a Total Makeover is in order!
It is what Paul is praying for when he writes: “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the Day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
To produce such a harvest, it is time to begin a total makeover today!