Sunday, December 6, 2020
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15
How’s your Advent journey going? What surprises has God revealed to you about how divine love comes into this world? How is your view of ‘normal’ being interrupted?
In today’s Gospel reading, we jump back to the beginning of Mark’s version of the story and get introduced to Jesus’ cousin John the Baptizer. He’s quite the character, paying no attention to current fashion or dietary trends, proclaiming uncomfortable yet essential truths.
A lot of people would describe John the Baptizer as a difficult person. He confronted people head on with the message of God. He didn’t mince words or sugar coat anything. He spoke of repentance and sin and called out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy. And yet he models for us the true meaning of humility, always, only, directing everyone’s attention toward God.
John didn’t do what he did for his own glory but because he passionately believed with every cell of his being that he was preparing others to see and experience God. He felt an urgency in this message of hope. Prepare the way! The kingdom is at hand! Make ready! Repent! John knew that God’s Love requires us to respond, in one way or another.
In this season of anticipation, John the Baptizer’s message is so big it gets two Sundays, today and next Sunday. That’s a lot of press for someone who today would more than likely be told his message was too harsh, to tone it down, to quit being so critical, quit trying to change people and just let everyone be.
To us, in our twenty first century western mindset, the word repent feels like a weapon not a beacon of hope. We don’t like to be told we have to change or that we could possibly be wrong. And we label anyone who says things like this to us as a difficult and demanding person.
The word that John spoke, metanoia, that we translate into English most often as repentance means a change of mind. The Common English Bible translates John’s charge as “change your hearts and lives”. John knew that God’s way of seeing the world was better than anything the people listening to him could ever imagine. He believed that Jesus was coming to show us all how to be who God created us to be.
And John also knew that this change we are all called to face isn’t some instantaneous magic trick. To prepare ourselves for God takes work, continuous, lifelong, ongoing, difficult work. It requires us to face the difficult questions. There is no quick fix. This metanoia God calls us to is a way of living as we follow Jesus with our whole being, all the time.
The first step is to admit we need to change, to accept that God calls us to be different from what the world tells us we should be, to change our heart and mind about what success looks like, what money is for, how we view other people, and how we view ourselves. The most difficult question ever asked is ‘why’. Why do we do the things we do? Do we live, like John the Baptizer, directing other people’s attention toward God with all that we do, with all that we have, and with all that we are?
John’s urgent proclamations come from the understanding that unless we can see a purpose for changing we won’t be willing to do the difficult work. The reason repentance is necessary as a starting point for our ongoing relationship with God is because repentance is our recognizing that we need God.
God’s gifts of love and compassion and forgiveness are always available to us. We benefit most fully from these gifts when we actively use them. And we can only fully grasp the meaning of them if we know how desperately we need them to live into our whole and holy humanness as God created us to live.
As we continue our Advent journey toward Jesus, how are you preparing the way? As you light your candles and reflect on the themes of Advent, I invite you go a little deeper into the work of asking yourself difficult questions.
The good news is that we don’t face these questions alone nor do we have to find our own strength or courage. God is with us saying to us, “you are my beloved child and together we can live in hope and peace and love and joy. Walk with me on this journey. It isn’t always easy but it is always worth it. Use my strength. I will give you courage.”
Do not be afraid. Take heart. The Kingdom of God is at hand. God is with us.