Whenever someone says I need to REPENT of something, for me it automatically sounds like judgment and a process that I'm unwilling to engage, just because I don't like change all that much. I'm kind of set in my ways. Like most of us. REPENT has such a negative and judgmental sound to it, - so much so that we rarely hear it used today. We would much rather talk about our need for therapy or our "issues" in living our lives - we have turned sin into a non-starter - a non-category in our thinking.
SIN reminds us that there is a WAY that we should be walking in - that we should be living our lives in a certain way.
SIN reminds us that there is a TRUTH that continues to stand in the face of our - yes, even our stubborn rebellion.
SIN reminds us that there is a LIFE that can be lived in alignment with the God who created and who sustains us.
SIN reminds us that we are partakers of the atmosphere - the air we breathe is lawlessness and independence!
I'm struck this morning by the proximity of words. Often in the same sentences in Scripture we see the words REPENT and the word HOPE or the word LIFE. I remember reading a little book once by Mother Basilea Schlinck, the founder of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Germany. The book was called "Repentance - The Joy-filled Life". The call that she spoke of in the book was the call to REPENT - in the case of their order of sisters, to "repent for the actions of the Nazi's and the German people toward the Jews in WW II". This was the clear mandate of Mother Basilea and the order continues even today!
To repent is to be reconnected to hope and to life - to the very life of God!!
Our gospel this morning, on this Second Sunday of Advent, is the story of John, the Baptizer, whose message was also one of repentance for sin and turning from one kind of life to a new kind of life. A message of preparation is what we hear this morning - preparing for the advent of the Messiah - the one promised by God. John was a forerunner - a prophet appointed to bring a message - a particular message:
"In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: `Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'"
John, the apostle, tells us more about John, the Baptist than perhaps any other gospeler. In John's Gospel, the first three chapters reveal insights into the man and the dynamic between John and Jesus that existed, since they were cousins, a fact that Luke reveals to us in his account. In John's gospel, John the Baptist points to Jesus as the messiah, refusing to take any of the accolades of the people, even to the point of giving Jesus some of his followers - Andrew being a major one, the brother of Simon Peter. John's words, even in chapter 3 of John's gospel, when questioned again about Jesus, said this:
25 A debate broke out between John’s disciples and a certain Jew[h] over ceremonial cleansing. 26 So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”
27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. 28 You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ 29 It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. 30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.
John, the baptizer, knew his task and his time in relationship to his cousin, Jesus. It would have been super easy to get defensive and to begin to "own" more than he had been given, especially in the face of the accusations of his own disciples, but John keeps his perspective and rightly puts them and himself in the place he held as a forerunner - the best man at the wedding! He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.
Friends, the message of repentance that we hear in this season is one that connects us to the life that God intends for us. It is the doorway to access the forgiveness that Jesus spoke from the Cross - our message from a few weeks ago. That is the reason that it is almost always in the same sentence with the words like hope and life and Kingdom of God!
You remember the painting of Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts? Repentance is our coming to the door from the inside and opening the door to the knock of Jesus and letting him fulfill his promise to come in and sup with us and us with him!
Often we think of repentance from sin, as this awful thing - because we mix it with the devil's concoction of condemnation and guilt that leads us to self-condemnation and a judgment that we can never be truly saved. But that is a lie from the pit of Hell! Jesus said it best when he said, "The son of man came not to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved!" The message of repentance is not one of condemnation, but one of hope and love and grace.
We need to understand the first part of the prayer that we pray so often: "Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace"
Did you hear it? "THAT EVERYONE MIGHT COME WITHIN THE REACH OF YOUR SAVING EMBRACE" Repentance is the joy filled life because it leads us back into relationship with Jesus and with His Father! The message of repentance is amiss when it is mixed with condemnation and judgmentalism. Those are not from the heart of the Father, nor are they from the Word of the Son! Paul tells us that "godly sorrow leads us to repentance." It is not a message of condemnation, but a message of great love, of sacrifice and of grace extended. Both John and Jesus came preaching the same message, line for line: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" God is extending His hand to you - the Kingdom of Heaven - relationship with the Father is "at hand" - is extended to you in this moment. How will you respond? Jesus' life and message, THE GOSPEL, was lived and preached as the "real life" extension of God's hand towards us. Our response to His offer begins in repentance and ends in relationship... in restoration... in hope of redemption... and the hope of heaven. Paul in fact refers to the Father as "The God of Hope!" His letter to the Romans is a monument to this message of God's hand extended, through him to the Gentiles - to the whole world! And my prayer and blessing throughout this season of Advent is the last line of our reading from Romans this morning! Look there and read it together with me:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist's and the message of the Gospel's, along with Paul's subsequent message in his teaching and letters to the churches is the same! It is the message of the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of God that leads us to repentance, to turn from our sin and to take the hand of Jesus extended.
I wonder - are you prepared for His coming? Our collect this morning, that we will read in a few minutes during our prayers says it this way:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
When we pray in a few minutes, take those words to heart! Give us grace, Merciful God, to heed the warnings of the Prophets, like John the Baptist, and to forsake our sins, SO THAT we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ - his first coming and His second coming, in power and great glory.
Let us get and remain prepared for His coming. That is the task of this season of Advent. It is the force of the message we are hearing today, "Repent - for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."