There is a story of a monk who decided to paint an old door in his monastery. This monk decided to scrape the old paint on the door so he could paint. He got all his supplies and began scraping the door. As he kept scraping, he came upon one paint layer upon the other. The more he scraped, the more he came upon different colors of paint. Eventually when he managed to scrape all of the paint, he realized that the original oak door was so beautiful that it really did not need any paint at all.
The point of the story is that we are born beautiful, with genuinely pure hearts and thoughts. But as we go through life, our original beauty and innocence take on the nature of the old door of the monastery. At every turn and season, we put on a different color of paint. And so we have, in the process, accumulated so much paint that we have lost our original beauty, purity of heart, honesty and innocence. The different colors of paint we have accumulated over time has obscured that beauty. No one truly knows us. Those who believe they know us are often not sure who we truly are, or which of our many colors will show up at any given time.
The nature of sin is such that it eats away our very identity and beauty. It conceals our true person and renders us impotent. Sin often leads us into the darkest places of life, and convinces us of our own superiority. Sin renders us incapable of seeing the beauty in others, because we have lost our own sense of beauty.
Socrates once said, "An unexamined life is not worth living.” For this great philosopher, life is worth its while when we engage ourselves in an honest and open manner, for it is only through this process that can we make the life-altering changes that we may need to, in order to turn our lives around.
It is this life-changing course that John speaks about as he invites us to prepare the way for the coming Messiah of God. John calls people to baptism for the repentance of sin. John, in his prodding, relies on a traditional Jewish ritual of restoration to purity, and invites his hearers to a kind of baptism which, at its core, demands the absolute turn-around, the metanoia of the baptized - a baptism based on a total and utter surrender of the baptized.
John doesn’t minimize sin; he recognized sin for what it was - an impediment. For if the beauty of God is hidden, it is hidden because of sin. And for that beauty to come alive, for our own beauty to radiate, for us to be made a new people, we have to submit ourselves not only to baptism, but to the baptism that calls for the unraveling of the many different colors, just so we can get to who we truly are.
As much as Advent is a period of an anticipatory wait for the coming of the God who dares to be present with us, it is also a season of self-examination. It is the time where we go to the bottom of our lives, where we dare to dig deep within us and bring out both the best and worst in us, and where we reflect on what it is about us, and in us, that needs to change.
Come with me to the River Jordan, and together let’s wash away all the many different colors which hide our beauty.