Today’s #AdventWord is not one I’d have picked myself; there’s almost no choice but to read a word like PURIFY in, well, puritanical terms, and, if you’re anything like me, maybe even a James Hetfield twang:
TRUTH AND DARE
PEELING BACK THE SKIN
ACID WASH GHOST WHITE
WANNA BE SKELETON
Metallica’s “Purify” perfectly captures the unrelenting reductionism of how we tend to hear & deploy the concept of “purity”: a sweet turpentine to burn off all excess & filth.
PURIFY OUR CONSCIENCE! cries this Sunday’s collect: “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.”
Scrub the floors! Run the Roomba! Wipe the counters! Guests are about to arrive.
I don’t need to remind you that the church has had a terrible track record on this topic. From evangelical purity culture to catholic mortification of the flesh, for most people, the church is really good at drawing boundaries around the unclean that somehow find the majority of us on wrong side of the tracks.
But the irony of today’s lectionary is that it comes with a very messy story: Christ’s incarnation is literally scandalous.
Think about it. If you were writing this script and you decided to have an angel show up a couple of times to avoid a public disgrace just so a child would be born to Mary who is to be wed to Joseph but will not have marital relations with him, etc. etc., all of which taking place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, someone’s going to tell you to give that part another go. It’s messy. It’s meandering. Why would you draft up a God so shoddily conceived?
Here’s the cosmic secret we learn upon close reading: God’s purity isn’t turpentine. That’s something only a dudebro would come up with. Purity is essence, crystal, & tincture, moonbeam & smoke—it cycles & sways, it’s vegetal & mineral, it’s to each according to their need, by each according to their ability. It’s alignment. It’s simple because it’s intricately woven, like mycelium & muslin. Purity is flowery. Purity is elaborate and baroque, for the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.