‘In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”....Now John wore clothing of camel hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
On this Second Sunday of Advent we are confronted with John the Baptist and his call to Repent. The story of John the Baptist was very important to the early Christians and to the writers of our Gospels. All four Gospels tell the story of John while only 2 of the 4 have a nativity story of Jesus.
In the Gospel of Matthew the story of John is closely tied to the story of Jesus’ ministry.
If we were hearing this story for the first time we might ask what was so attractive about John and his ministry. After all at first glance he seems a bit odd to put it mildly. There he was wandering around in the wilderness - dressed in camel hair (which probably did not smell very good) and his diet is limited to locust and wild honey. But Matthew tells us that people from all over were coming to hear him preach and to be baptized by him. So what was the attraction?
Clearly John’s message of repentance resonated with the crowds. He was compared to the revered prophets of the scriptures.
He was preaching end times material. Repent - the kingdom of heaven has come near. You had better change your ways because things are going to change.
How do you feel when you hear the call of repentance? What does repentance even mean for us? Should we even be bothering to consider this or is it obsolete?
What is repentance? And why was John so adamant about it?
Does repentance mean feeling sorry for our mistakes? Is it trying to be a better person? Do we even need to do it?
Does hearing REPENT! Or thinking about repentance make you question if you will ever receive God’s mercy rather than God’s wrath?
For John repentance is the first step - not the only step in realigning ourselves with God.
A step in realigning ourselves in accord with Christ’s life. In order to be ready for Christmas we need the time of Advent to think about God’s promises - for us and for the world.
Repentance is less about our guilty feelings and more about God’s power to transform us. Christ has reoriented our lives.
The writer of Matthew’s gospel makes it clear that the Kingdom of God brings about a break with the past.
So we repent in this season. We take time to think about God’s promises and we consider once again what the Christian life calls us to. It is a life lived for others. This is what we have heard today in all our readings. Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist call us to this in this season of preparation and hope.
So how do we prepare?
We know how to prepare for Christmas. Do we know how to prepare for Christ?
As we prepare for Christmas we are busy with shopping and baking and wrapping and holiday parties and Christmas cards and travel plans and trees and decorations and special movies and Christmas carols. Preparing for Christmas is all about traditions.
Can we say the same for the preparation for Christ. John tells us that repentance is the first step in these preparations. How do we prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God? How do we prepare for the reign of God where justice and mercy will not be in conflict.
John tells us to bear fruit in the world. Perhaps as we prepare it is not just about us. Perhaps as we prepare over these next couple of weeks we think about how we tell the story of our faith. How we tell the story of Jesus.
What happens at the end of the preparations. Well for Christmas it is all over very quickly. We unwrap the gifts - we enjoy the special food and we recycle the boxes and the paper and soon we will pack everything up again and put it away for another year.
But its not like that with our preparations for Christ. We do not put away our relationship with God. We do not box up the stories about Jesus. We live them each day and we hear them each Sunday. We continue to prepare. We continue to grow. We continue to work for the kingdom. We prepare for a kingdom or a reign where there is righteous judgment for the poor, equity for the meek. Where we try to live lives in harmony with one another. These are gifts that keep giving and are never ever returned.
In order to be ready for Christmas - to be ready for Christ we need the season of Advent. We need to pause on these Sundays and think about God’s promises. We need to examine ourselves. As John proclaimed - REPENT! Let God work in your to realign you with God’s hopes and promises. Advent is about looking ahead not behind at what was. We look to what is to come.
In the season of Advent we discover that we are cherished for who we are and that we are responsible for what we do.