Second Sunday of Advent - Matthew 3,1-12
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
John the Baptist was a truly strange fellow, was he not? Can you imagine his possible vocation and ministry assessment from a bishop or a selection board? Well, it has been said that all of the Apostles, and even Jesus himself, would not be recommended for ministry in the Church, so that’s probably not a good measure but, if not quite along the lines of norms of ministry, the response to John the Baptist from contemporary religious leaders was equally incredulous. Indeed, even those who didn’t have an axe to grind with him would have considered him to be truly bizarre. And yet, he is the one whom God chose to prepare the people of his time for the coming of the Messiah, and his kingdom.
John, who was actually a very slightly older cousin of Jesus, was the forerunner, the advance man whose job it was, with his wild preaching and baptisms, to prepare people for the Coming. As we, this Advent, remind ourselves of the work that we need to do in preparing ourselves for the second coming of Jesus, and to celebrate the first coming on that Bethlehem night, it is imperative that we hear his message again.
The point that John makes is that we must repent. Repent is not a word that is too common in everyday usage, but literally it means to turn around. Specifically, in our context, it means to turn around and move away from sin; emotionally, physically, mentally; leave our sin behind and go in a different direction. Sin, too, is not a popular word today.
The problem today is that most don’t believe they are in need of repentance. They are basically good eggs and can’t imagine that they do anything wrong. I hear it regularly said, “I don’t need to go to church; I’m a good person, always doing a good turn and wouldn’t harm anyone…” and, as I’ve often myself said, if you believe funeral eulogies, I’ve only ever buried saints. “If only everyone in the world were like Gran, or Grandad, or Aunt Mabel… etc”, the world would be fixed – there’s no need of Jesus or repentance because we’re all so perfect!
If we really believe that Christ is coming we will want to get rid of all the sin in our life and for that we need to have the Holy Spirit working in us giving us the strength to abandon everything that wreaks of sin. If Christ IS coming we are not going to want to be around him if we are cloaked in sin; and sin is in thought, word, and deed, all that is contrary to the will of God. It’s not so much that God in his holiness can’t stand to be around sinful people (Jesus proved that not to be the case), but rather it’s that sinful people can’t stand to be in the presence of holiness. Repentance is for our own sake!
Have you ever spilled coffee down your front first thing in the morning when you get to work, and you have nothing to change into and you can’t go home? You’re stuck with that very obvious big brown coffee stain and everyone you see all day is staring at your clumsiness, or at least that’s what you think and feel. You’d give anything to get away; cancel all your appointments. You can’t stand to be with people while you’ve got that big stain.
But repentance isn’t just abandoning those things that are displeasing to God, those things that hinder our ability to grow in our likeness of him. What good is it to stop doing something if we don’t do something else to replace it? We end up with a vacuum and quickly slip back into doing the very thing that we’ve turned from. The point is to turn from sin toward having a healthy life-changing faith and practice, allowing the life of Christ to grow in us; allowing our lives to become God-like.
So when we turn FROM sin we turn TOWARD those things that nurture our relationship with God. We pray, we listen to God and to the word of God, we share in the Holy Eucharist, we might avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Confession. We give attention to fellowship with God’s people, the Church, because it is through them that we have a level of accountability in regard to our repentance. Our brothers and sisters in Christ gently nudge us in the direction we should be going.
There's an urgency about all this. Are we prepared? Are we ready? I’m not asking if we’ve finished our Christmas shopping or sent out all our Christmas cards, but have we repented? Have we changed our minds and direction? Are we continuing to repent?
John the Baptist is calling out to us: “Turn from your sins and turn to God because the Kingdom of heaven is near.”Fr Julian Kent CFMD