Remember being a child and coming in after a day of playing and being ordered immediately by your mother to take a bath? Even before dinner? Ever have a child in your grade at school who never seemed to get quite clean? I remember a teacher taking one such a hapless fellow in a headlock. Dragging him bodily over to the sink, she inflicted upon him a thorough scrubbing. Not only did he emerge much cleaner, this event made an impression on the rest of us. Of course, you and I know such a thing would never happen in school these days, but as they say, that was then . . .
The second week in a row we meet John the Baptist, whose formidable message bodes neither tidings of singular comfort or joy. When asked why he did it, John responded that his authority was not messianic—he made no claim to be the messiah. John made it clear that he was just the bulldozer. As in any home renovation project, his was the demolition phase, that uncomfortable moment when counter tops are ripped out and walls are knocked down. His message reminds us that the human condition is sinful, not filled with grace. Vigorously as that grade school teacher applied fels naptha soap to my hapless classmate, so John applies fels naptha to the soul, convicting of sin and scrubbing clean in a baptism of repentance. His is not the Baptism of the fire of the Holy Spirit, just the remedy to prepare the way of the Lord.
And yet it is with this vigor that we must be cleansed, so that we might put on the garments of salvation, and be adorned with the grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. Advent’s message is one of getting ready that we might be fit to receive the power of the love of God in Jesus our Lord.