Who’s the most famous preacher you can think of? Jimmy Swaggert comes to mind. Joel Osteen, too, if you can call him a preacher. The Rev. Timothy Lovejoy on the Simpsons is more recognizable than most, despite his cartoon-ish nature. The most famous preacher in the known world in the year 30? John the Baptist. John endures even now because he is one of those guys that forces you to wonder what in the world is wrong with him or what in the world is wrong with you. No one can shove locusts in his mouth, wipe his hands on his animal skin apron and call you a snake without you wondering if he is nuts or if, just maybe, you’re a snake. His message during that first Advent? Make ready.
Doan and I were talking about how we are already sick of Christmas music, and that conversation took place a week before Thanksgiving. We now mute the TV or radio when the commercials come on with jingles about the benefits of shopping at TJ Maxx set to Christmas music. You ever notice that none of those songs are about John the Baptist? Between us, Doan and I have around a dozen Nativity Sets, yet none of them have a little Baptist figurine. None of those songs or Nativity Sets include John yet fully half the Gospel readings for Advent include John as the prime subject. What if in excluding John we exclude what he had to say to us, a message so important that it was recorded at length by all the Evangelists? What if the exclusion of the Baptist is in our usual syrupy celebration of Christmas is not just an oversight but a profound insight on how we want our faith to be played out?
I know, for me, even though I love John the Baptist, I don’t always feel like listening to him. It’s not easy, even for good Christians, to make ready, to prepare, to get your house in order because the Kingdom of God has come near. That’s a long way from Jesus is coming so look busy; John didn’t tell them or us that Jesus is coming, he said that the Jesus had come, and that He brought the Kingdom with Him. John is telling us that the presence of the Kingdom, the staggeringly close proximity of Jesus, changes the game of life; he is saying that when it’s the Son of the Living God who’s coming to visit, it’s no ordinary day.
So if we are to make ready this Advent, how do we, in the midst of the holly jolliness and family demands, make ready for something like the coming of the Lord Himself? Thankfully, John told us how to make ready: repent, and bear fruits worthy of that repentance. Sometimes the word ‘repent’ can ring awkwardly in our ears; it’s ring is high and shrill and reminds us of hellfire preachers and Bibles being slammed into pulpits. And perhaps it should be awkward or make us feel awkward: we are talking about our own failings, our own filth. But being good Anglicans, we have, and this is important, offered a real, manageable, and efficacious way to repent, to make ready. It’s called auricular confession. In the Prayer Book it’s called The Reconciliation of a Penitent, and yes, it starts out with “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” Giving your confession, if you’re not used to it, can be awkward, but it always ends anything but. A couple things you need to know about confession:
1)It’s something you prepare for; you make ready to make your confession. Whether you have made a confession before or not, before you come, make an inventory of what you’ve been up to, you can even write it down. Make an effort to put words to the stuff that’s been eating at you, stuff done and left undone, stuff done yesterday and stuff done ages ago. Then burn the paper you wrote on.
2)Confession is a real and efficacious sacrament. Confession works; the penitent is, in fact, absolved of all of their sins, sins remembered and not remembered. The penitent walks out of this chapel as clean as the day of their baptism.
3)And third, confession is private and confidential. Sacramentally, morally, totally confidential. I will not, nor will any priest, against the pains of hell, reveal to anyone under any circumstances what you confessed. I will go to jail rather than repeat a single word.
The best part of Confession is that you get your sins forgiven and you don’t even have to get dunked in the Delaware by a man in a camel-skin onesie, though I’m not above doing that either. So as you are making your house ready for Christmas, decking the halls and tinseling the tree, take time to make your soul ready. Take time to make ready for that inexplicable peace and love that Jesus brings with Him every time He visits us. Make ready, ’cause I would hate any of us to miss that.