I had to laugh when I read the last line of the second reading this week: “Be eager to be found without spot or blemish before God.” Technically, I can make that claim because last week, for the second time in my life, I did not get a tattoo! The first time was nearly twenty years ago. An old, dear friend of mine and I were turning forty. We intended to mark the occasion by getting a little “ink.” We went down to St. Mark’s Square in Manhattan, picked a parlor that looked clean and “reputable,” took a deep breath and went in. My friend already knew what she wanted and where she wanted it. The artist started sketching the design on her, while I was left to pore over thousands of images, trying to make a decision. A cross? A bible verse? The Chinese character for eggroll? Long story short, I chickened out, nothing appealed to me enough to have it engraved on my skin!
So last week, when my Doc at Yale suggested we add some radiation to my treatment, I remembered that many people who have had this done told me that first a patient is marked with some tattooed dots to help the technicians hit the right spot every time. I was on my back on the CAT scan machine, just finishing up, when I asked the nurse if this was when I get my tattoos. She said, “Oh, no, we’re trending away from that for a lot of reasons.”
She then reached for a Sharpie, made a big cross at the top of my stomach, and put a piece of scotch tape over it. “Don’t scrub that away in the shower,” she admonished. (Have to say I wasn’t so disappointed, having had enough needles in the past few weeks!)
Far more than scrubbing our skin of ink and dirt and Sharpie marks, the second reading is part of the Advent exhortation to prepare: to prepare ourselves and our world by smoothing down the rough spots, filling in the crevices, widening the mind and breadth of our understanding, creating a space for peace to thrive.
Notice that, in the second reading, all of this is addressed to “beloved.” To me, that is probably the most important word in all three readings because it reminds us why we are to make the effort, why we should prepare. Not because we are grimy, ugly, pathetic creatures in need of shaping up, but because all this “landscaping” will reveal more clearly the beauty in which God created us in the first place! The human being, energized and activated by the grace of God, is a conduit of powerful goodness, a goodness in which the glory of God will be seen. Spend these days of Advent reclaiming that heritage, that image, and all the rest will come to peace.