Second Sunday of Advent: December 8, 2019
Year A: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
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Repent, I say. Repent.
Many of you might be tempted to head for the doors right now. What kind of sermon is she going to preach this morning?
I’m guessing that most of us assume repentance means saying we’re sorry. Or, that we’re really, really sorry and will never do it – whatever “it” is – again. To be sure that’s a part of repentance but, honestly, a pretty small part.
As many of you know, the heart of the word repentance, in Greek “metanoia,” means turning around, starting over, taking another direction, choosing another course. It connotes a spiritual conversion.
All of those actions by their nature call into question the value or rightness of one’s current behavior. The emphasis is less on what is wrong with what we’re doing now. It’s more about what is right, and more importantly, about what we will do differently.
Repentance also underscores that the change isn’t for the sake of change. Instead, change is necessary because we’ve become aware that our actions are out of step with God’s deep desire for peace and equity for all God’s people. Repentance, in short, is realizing that God is pointing us in one way, that we’ve been traveling another way, and we change course as a result of our encounters with God.
Repentance can seem pretty daunting pretty quickly. There are so many things I could repent of, or we as a community and nation could repent of. Pollution – plastics will take over our oceans by 2050. Poverty and food scarcity. A lack of clean water. The number of children living below the poverty level. And the list goes on.
We might be tempted to say, “surely we’re not responsible for all that.” Also, we are tempted to think that there is very little that we, as individuals or as a local church community, can do. But we can, and we do. We have a monthly community luncheon that gives folks an opportunity to socialize. Our food pantry feeds as many as 220 people in a week. Our churches are sanctuaries for folks
Rather than inviting repentance in general – which is too unspecific to be helpful, I invite you to consider doing a couple of things.
Take a moment to think about what God’s vision is for us as a community. What do you think God wants us to be and to do in the world around us? If you’re like me, sometimes you daydream. In some ways, daydreaming is what our passages chosen for this Sunday are – God’s vision of a different world where there is no hatred, no injustice, no fear. And this vision isn’t just a goal or a checkbox to be ticked off and achieved, but a dream by which to set a course – the course of our lives.
Second, choose just one element of your lives of which you would like to repent – that is, change direction. Use this Advent as a time to do that. Is there some longstanding pattern in your life you want or need to change? I have to tell you. My mother died 25 years ago, and until a couple of years ago, I could recite chapter and verse of who was at her funeral and, more importantly, who wasn’t there. I held a grudge. I finally (with some help from God) decided the grudges took too much psychic energy. If we all look closely, we will find those grudges.
In changing old habits, is there some practice or habit you take up that would produce a more abundant life for you and those around you? As I go through Advent, I’m reminded that sometimes I need to repent of my desire always to be doing something, even if the doing is watching television, reading a book and listening to music (usually all at the same time). I’m drawn to the words of Cornelia Connelly; a Presbyterian converted to Episcopalian converted to Roman Catholic, who founded a religious community in England in 1846. Concerning Advent, she wrote, “it is precisely because we are called to live busy lives that we must lead lives of prayer.” Prayer is a pretty good way to continually change our hearts and our lives.
John called people in his day and age and calls us now to prepare for the coming of God by repentance. John called to people who had lost their way, people who needed to change direction, make amends, act differently.
We need to do the same thing. Repentance is about seeking to change our hearts, the core of our being, changing who we are in God’s sight so we will be ready for Jesus to come into the world. John calls us to prepare by choosing a different path.
Repentance is not a onetime act of confession or a onetime recital of a specific prayer or creedal statement. Repentance is the declaration of the heart, of the soul, of everything that is in us. Repentance is a response to the terrible burden or our sin and the great weight of God’s love for us, in turning from that which is destroying us to that which saves us.
Repentance is more than a sincere abiding inward decision to reject this life for the life of Christ! It is the ongoing and living decision to choose Christ and live for Christ daily!
Repentance is the attitude of the heart, which is thankful for the grace of God…
Repentance is to leave behind our shortcomings, whatever it is that keeps us from experiencing the love of God and a Gospel vision of caring for others, forgiving those who have wronged us, loving our friends and neighbors, and loving people who are different from us.
When you think about it maybe our wilderness is in our fears and our shortcomings. And perhaps it is that of which we must repent.
If we can invite one another to think of repentance as that changing of our lives and, indeed, engage in just two acts of repentance – one personal, one more communal – we might get to the real meaning of Advent. Slow down, wait.
Advent is to make room for Christ’s arrival, to be surprised again that God was willing to enter into our lives and history and take on our vulnerability in order to give us hope. The God we know in Jesus comes and gives us hope by being with us and for us by coming as a tiny infant inviting us to a more abundant life and helping us to see in the face of our neighbor a brother or sister in Christ.
These coming Sundays in Advent are a but a glimpse into all of our Sundays – and, indeed, all of our days – opportunities to discerning God’s call, see where we have left the path, and turn toward God’s vision for our communities and us once again.
John remained humble in his ministry, recognizing that he was not Jesus, but that his purpose was significant. John exemplifies humility.
When we show the humility of John, when we offer sincere repentance, when we prepare ourselves and consistently seek God daily, we live lives that reflect a humble attitude of gratefulness to God for God’s love and mercy. And we become more able to bear fruit worthy of repentance.
During this season of waiting and great preparation, as we seek to find again the one who first called us, to follow him; I invite you to be messengers to the world, to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation.
May God give us the grace to heed the warning of messengers and prophets and strength to repent so that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ.
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