Reflection: December 9 – ADVENT 2

Published on Dec 9th, 2018 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I like cleaning—probably even Janet finds this surprising.  I have to admit that I don’t always have the energy for it, but I like vacuuming and straightening things out; I don’t even mind cleaning toilets. Doing dishes?  A piece of cake.  Dusting I’m not so keen on.

         I was a housekeeper at the Iona Abbey when I was on sabbatical in 2005.  Some of you will remember that for you gave me an apron stating that I was the property of Nelson United Church.  I was the envy of the volunteers and staff that year because I received more mail than anyone else had ever done before.  It was my birthday in early June and many of you wrote a letter and a card.  I appreciated all of the support and contact.

         When you take a course at Iona, either at the Abbey or at the McLeod Centre, you have chores you have to do.  People would clean up the common area and lay the fire for the day.  They would clean the washrooms, set the table for meals, help tidy up after meals, and so on.  As housekeepers, it was our task to coordinate that and to do other cleaning in common areas, and of course, we would do a deep cleaning after guests left and before new guests arrived.  When I started in May, we also had to deal with bedbugs and so there was a little extra effort in changing beds and cleaning each room.  While it could certainly be tiring, I enjoyed it.  It was a surprise to many when they learned that I was a minister from Canada on Sabbatical; they wondered why I hadn’t chosen something more up my alley in which to volunteer… surely cleaning was not part of my skill-set!

         There’s a satisfaction that comes with having things clean, neat and tidy.  You’d never know that I feel this way by the state of my office sometimes!  Or the pile of clothes on my chair in our bedroom!  I love to throw things out or recycle things I’m not using any longer. Somehow things seem a little more ordered when they are tidied, put away and straightened out.  The forces of the universe are in tune when something is clean… or so it seems sometimes to me.  Who knew that cleaning could be a spiritual exercise.  (Well, Brother Lawrence knew a few centuries ago; he wrote “Practice the Presence of God” as a monk and a dishwasher.)

         While modern methods of cleaning have changed over the years, there is certainly a very human impulse to make the space where we live as clean and tidy as it can be.  Along with implements for work and weapons for hunting and protection, implements of cleaning have also been found at archaeological digs—they don’t get a lot of press.  (I wonder why?!)

         So, while it seems strange to us that the prophet Malachi would use an image of cleaning as a representation of God’s intent a few hundred years before Jesus, there is a lot of good reason for using this image.  The refiner’s fire, a reference to the forge and blacksmithing, was about purification… about cleansing—refining gold or silver.  I believe that Jesus got the idea of cleansing the Temple, when he did, from Malachi.

         It was a difficult time for the Jews in Palestine when Malachi spoke.  Corruption had become a normal part of Temple functions.  The Covenant had been twisted to serve an elite few.  The poor folk paid unfair taxes.  There were rival groups vying for power in Israel.  It was a time of uncertainty and fear.  There were foreign pressures and new powers that threatened.  What was Israel to do?

         According to Malachi, Israel was to engage in a deep cleaning.  It wasn’t just everyday cleaning, but a deep cleansing and a return to the Covenant.  The images of the refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap point to a deep clean.  Part of the responsibility of the Covenant was to a deep righteousness—not self-righteousness but a sense of justice with peace—and respect for all people, for foreigners, for the poor, for the most vulnerable in society.

         That, too, was John the Baptist’s call: to a deep clean.  Perhaps there was some effort at a deep clean after Malachi’s call, but they slipped back into corruption and collusion with foreign powers.  Alexander the Greek swept through and left a Greek form of authority, which, when morphed with Egyptian, became corrupted and self-serving.  This was the time when the Temple was lost and Judas Maccabeus and family organized a rebellion thus giving the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.  And of course, after this time, there were the Romans.

         Like Malachi’s time, John faced a period in history when there were many political and religious choices.  John himself was perhaps an Essene, a monastic group within Judaism that represented a strict code of behaviour and religious practice.  There were the Zealots who preached rebellion from Rome. There were the Sadducees, the old-guard representing the Levitical priests and Temple authorities.  There were the Pharisees who represented the Synagogue leadership.  There were those who called themselves Messiah.  You had the cynical harsh political might of the likes of Pilate as a Roman governor.  You had Herod the puppet king of Israel.  You get the picture.  John wanted people to make a choice for justice, for righteousness, for peace, for hope, for the Covenant, and he pulled no punches.  We’ll hear more of John next week.

         Who are our prophets today, I wonder?  Maybe David Suzuki or Bill McKibben and their call for climate justice?  Naomi Klein and her call for an overhaul of capitalism? Brother David Steindl-Rast and his call for a focus on gratitude?  JK Rowling and her call for more imagination and magic in our lives?  Margaret Atwood and her call to consider the dystopian future we are building?  Parker Palmer and his call to be more loving and courageous in our relationships?  Or maybe Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Christian activist in Palestine?  Or Bono and his call for justice for the poor?

         There is a lot for us to sift through as followers of the One who embodied justice, hope, love and compassion, who opened borders that separate and tore down fences that exclude. We each make our own choices.  We each look to our own lives and the cleansing necessary to live holistically.  But we make choices together, too, choices to be an island of justice and peace, an island of sanity in a sometimes cruel world, an island of hope in the midst of despair.

         Both Malachi and John invite us to look for the One who leads in the way of new life.  We both look ahead to that time and take heart in the present knowing that this One is alive in us in our embodiment of love and compassion in what we do.  The birth of this One in a couple of weeks’ time is a reminder that the future is now and time is fulfilled and love will hold us to account for a new direction for all life.

         That’s my hope.  Amen.

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