Last week, we talked about the mess. We talked about our responsibility to be ready to become vessels for new life, clean vessels where life can flourish and not stagnate. God has brought, is bringing, and will continue to bring life. Anything not cleaned in our part of the Temple is fair game for the cleanup. But God isn’t cleaning your room for you and he won’t force you to clean it. You have to choose to do it yourself.
Now comes the actual clean up. Not just cleaning up ourselves but helping clean up the world around us as well. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, get out the scrub brushes and get to work cleaning so we are ready. Now, we become part of the clean-up crew.
I imagine there are some saying yes, some saying no. Some are like the older brother in what we call the Prodigal Son story. I didn’t make the mess; I’m not cleaning it up. Some are simply overwhelmed by the mess and wonder if the best thing to do is just to declare it all trash and sweep the lot of it into the bin. Maybe, I can’t say I haven’t thought about that from time to time. But the truth is it isn’t feasible. So, were back to cleaning up the mess.
In our readings today, we heard from Isaiah 40. The writer of that wonderful passage reminds us God is a god of comfort in the mess. The mess they faced then was being exiled to Babylon and the aftermath as those sent away returned to Jerusalem. The mess was cultural, religious, spiritual, and utterly demoralizing for those taken away and it left a permanent scar for Jewish people and theology.
The mess was also one of their own making. What theologians call First Isaiah, or the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah, is God calling his people to repentance, to change their ways, or face the consequences. The people pretend to care, pretend to do the right thing. They look like they are taking care of the mess. But God sees where they have just shoved it all in a closet or under the bed. They have forgotten to care for the widow, the orphan, the sojourner, and all the less thans and have nots of their land. God tells them,
Stop bringing worthless offerings. Your incense repulses me. New moon, sabbath, and the calling of an assembly—I can’t stand wickedness with celebration! I hate your new moons and your festivals. They’ve become a burden that I’m tired of bearing. When you extend your hands, I’ll hide my eyes from you. Even when you pray for a long time, I won’t listen.
Your hands are stained with blood. Wash! Be clean! Remove your ugly deeds from my sight. Put an end to such evil; learn to do good. Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.
John the Baptizer picks up this message in Mark 1 drawing directly from Isaiah,
Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.”
John’s message is also one of “calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” But the calls of Isaiah and John are not just calls for individual change. They are calls for communal change; calls for people not only to clean their own house but to encourage others to clean their houses. They are calls to encourage community change, to seek justice. For Isaiah and John this included helping those who were oppressed, defending the orphan, and advocating and caring for the widow. Each of these are people groups that are unable to protect or defend themselves. The change goes beyond us and helps to transform the world around us. This is the work of the Kingdom, the work of bringing the Jesus Way of Life.
And that is our call, a call to for us first to clean out our little room in the Temple of God and then second, to begin the clean-up process in the world around us. How do we do that? In this weird time that we live in, I think our best cleaning tools are a phone, a cookpot, and a pen. Do you know people who need to be encouraged, checked on, or just in need of a conversation? Make a phone call. Send a text. Even something as simple or as silly as an emoji or funny gif lets people know you are thinking about them. Reaching out is connection, letting people know they are still part of the family, not forgotten.
For our shut-ins or the sick or the needy? How about a casserole or pie or a plate of cookies, taking proper precautions of course? Let people know you recognize not only their emotional needs but also their physical needs and tells them you love them. It shows that you want to see them be completely healthy, body and soul.
And since it’s Christmas, the last one is easy. Get out your pen and drop a line or Christmas card to those around you, especially those who are not part of this or any other church. Christmas for many is a lonely time facing the loss of loved ones and for some, the isolation of living alone. Let them know they are not alone with a card or letter.
As we look at this holiday season, let’s look with eyes toward tidying up the community around us by seeking to care for those in need of care. May our transformation as disciples lead others to be transformed and become themselves disciples as we live into being the clean-up crew for our community.
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