Fred Mc Feely Rogers, a native of Latrobe PA, otherwise known simply as Mr. Rogers, was the creator of the Children’s Television program known as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The show ran from 1968 through 2001. Most all of us probably remember the signature beginning of the show, where Mr. Rogers entered the set, changed into a zippered cardigan sweater and sneakers, and sang “won’t you be, won’t you be, please won’t you be my neighbor. It was a gentle show, extolling the adventures in the land of make believe, and Mr. Rogers was a gentle man. Generally at one point in the show, he would look into the camera and assure his young audience, “I like you just the way you are.”
I could not help but think about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as I was reading the lessons for this week. Between the lessons from Malachi and the introduction of John the Baptist in Luke it is easy to draw certain conclusions.
First, while there seems to be some confusion in thinking about this in terms of the contemporary face of Christianity, God the Father is not Mr. Rodgers. God does not like you or me or anyone of us “just the way you are.” Because just the way you are is that you are sinners, each and every one of us. That is the idea conveyed in the theological doctrine of original sin. “Just the way you are” is offensive to God. “Just the way you are” is that you stand in need of the gift of salvation and you stand in need of the grace of God.
“Just the way we are includes a tendency tend to be selfish, and self-serving.” Just the way we are is that we tend to ignore that which is spiritual in favor of the temporal. “Just the way we are” is that we generally opt for what is pragmatic rather than that which is “Just the way we are” is that we need a savior. That is the point driven home by Malachi the prophet: God is no Fred Rogers: He is like a refiner of gold who smelts away the impurities; he is like the fuller. Now, a fuller was a person whose job is to treat wool in the process of fulling cloth. The wool is first cleansed in a harsh, caustic chemical bath, the basis of which was ammonium salts, from a disgusting source. The wool was pounded and trampled in the bath until all the impurities were removed. And then then cloth was hung from tenterhooks to stretch it and prevent it from shrinking. No wonder Malachi asked the question, “who can stand, who can take, or even look forward to the day of his coming.”
So where’s the good news in this? The good news is that God does not love you just the way you are; he loves you as you are redeemed through Jesus. He loves you as you are filled with the power and the grace of the Holy Spirit, and as you grow into the fullness of the grace of Jesus. The cloth does not hang forever on the tenterhooks, it is made into something. The none too dulcet reminder of Advent is that God does not want us to hang around in the stretching room forever; he wants to make us into something glorious: no less than his sons and daughters.
In Advent 1928, in a sermon preached by the Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his courageous preaching in the face of the rising tide of Nazism, had this to say about Advent:
“It is a very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously people trembled at the day of God…We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s Coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s Coming should arouse in is. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.”