Sin deforms. It desecrates.
Think about a beautifully formed sculpture, something like Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Italy. It represents the perfection of the human form, shining forth in truth, goodness and beauty.
Sin is like a hammer-wielding madman that desecrates Michelangelo’s Pietà. It is a furnace of discontent that melts the statue into nothingness.
The sinner’s act of desecration is not carried out upon an external work of art. No, sin desecrates the self. Created in the image and likeness of God, made for communion, the sinner turns inward. The sinner gazes upon the pornographic image, desecrating human sexuality. The sinner worships the idol of money, suffering from the deforming desire of greed. The sinner gossips. The sinner destroys God’s work of art.
The season of Advent is the time for us desecrating craftsmen to await the return of the master artist. God does not leave us to our desecrating ways: “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are all the work of your hands” (Is 64:7). God has promised to reform creation to its original destiny, to restore each and every person into the image and likeness of God.
This restoration project began with the first coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the manger at Bethlehem. Here we saw what the human person could become: flesh and blood made for total self-giving love. We saw the shape of this love upon the cross, communion restored as blood and water flowed from the side of Christ.
This restoration project is underway in the Church. Here we come as redeemed sinners to be reshaped by the hands of the potter. In the Eucharist, the recalcitrance of the human heart is softened as we eat his body and drink his blood. In marriage, man and woman are reformed over the course of their lifetime by becoming the love of Christ and the Church made manifest in the world. In penance, we confess to God that we are not the artists of our lives; God alone can reshape us.
This restoration project will be finished in the Second Coming: “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming” (Mk 13:35). The artist will not leave his creation alone. He will not abandon his works of art.
The Lord of heaven and earth will come to judge the world. At this final judgment, Our Lord Jesus Christ will reshape the human heart. We are made for gift, for love, for delighting in the presence of the living Lord.
Advent is the season in which we contemplate the work of the artist, awaiting our restoration. We should read with wonder what the divine artist has accomplished in the Scriptures. We should receive the sacraments, restoring us to our identity as creatures made for praise. We should greet the hidden Christ in the poor, offering hospitality to the hungry and thirsty. We should fast from the noise of the workaday world, forming ourselves to hear anew the voice of the Lord.
God wants us to stay awake because the moment of restoration is at hand. During Advent, we should prepare for the divine artist by softening our hearts. We should prepare by cleaning the mosaic of our lives so that God can discover anew the image that has been hidden through the dust of sin and death. The image of God’s very likeness. The icon of the beloved Son, who will come again.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.