In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 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.’ ” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
In Advent, we as the church take time to ponder what God is about to do to make the world new. We get ready to join God in whatever that is. We know that God has already come into the world in the person of Jesus, and even as we prepare to celebrate his birth at Christmas, we also prepare to join whatever it is that God is getting ready to do now.
We know that whatever God does it will definitely involve the things of God: love and grace and peace and compassion. It will also involve people revealing those aspects of God in the world as they commit to living in love and grace and peace and compassion. This is Advent—watching for God and preparing to join God in the world.
John the Baptist is truly the prototypical Advent character. His whole message is exactly what Advent is all about. Get ready, he says. Watch, he cries out. God is doing something big, here, he says. You need to get on board with this. It’s major. This is the stuff that the prophet Isaiah talked about centuries ago, he tells people. It’s starting to happen now.
We’ve always assumed that word means feeling sorry for your sins and promising never do them again. It kind of does include that, but it actually takes a little different turn than that—at least as John the Baptist uses the word. “Repent” is John’s big word, and he uses it in a bold and all-encompassing way. When John tells people to “repent,” he means more than feeling bad, but actually letting go of something in order to grab hold of something else. It’s a major change, To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.
Since God is about to turn the world upside down, John tells us, and everything will be different. It’s imperative that we drop those things that have worked for us in the world and embrace what God is doing now. Do it now, for your own sakes, and for the sake of the world. If you aren’t clinging to God’s activity, you’re clinging to the wrong thing. Period. It’s that simple for John. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.
Repent, Pharisees. Let go of any notion that God owes you something because of your obedience to religious law. In God’s coming reign, everyone is loved equally regardless of their morality, their effort, or their own righteousness. Everyone will be treated with equal—and absolute—grace. Grab hold of this way that God is working. Make it part of your life. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.
Repent, Sadducees. Abandon the idea that you are righteous because of your parents or your ancestry or the faith in which you were raised. Just stop. Because God’s compassion will be shown to those with devout faith just as much as to those with weak. God’s will is for all people to live in peace, without fear. So judging others based on your standards means you’re traveling down a road to destruction. God’s love and grace are entering the world and are about to roll over you like a locomotive. And as of now, you’re on the wrong track. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.
The Advent message of John the Baptist still needs to be heard by us in our world. The character of God is often on a different track than the one we’re traveling on. We’re often looking to get ahead, while God is looking for others to catch up. We’re looking to prove ourselves right, while God is looking to prove that others are loved. We’re looking to protect ourselves from enemies with force if necessary, while God is looking to include those enemies in God’s reign.
And John the Baptist’s cry to us is that we’ve got to abandon the track we’re on and switch over to the track on which God is traveling. Because these two different tracks go to two very different places. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.
It’s no longer enough to sit quietly in our church chairs on a Sunday and think that believing in God is all God wants of us. In the reign of God that John the Baptist calls out, love, care, compassion, grace, generosity aren’t quiet, and certainly not private. Advent calls us to let go of being irritated by xenophobia, and lovingly stand up for immigrants.
Advent calls us to abandon the thought that taking advantage of the poor as distasteful, and graciously stand up for those who are economically challenged.
Advent calls us to get off the track of being annoyed by homophobia or persecution of Muslims or sexism, and desperately cling to God’s track of actively loving our neighbors, in a way that they actually know it.
That’s John’s call to repentance. To get off our track so we can get on God’s track.
So here’s one small way I’m repenting this Advent. One way I’m changing tracks. Here’s what I’m planning to do to reveal God present in the world. Anything I post on social media, at least during Advent, will only reveal the things of God: love, compassion, inclusion, peace. I will be trying to abandon anything that isn’t revealing God and only recognize Jesus, the presence of God.
I’ll be letting go of my agenda so that I can grab hold of God’s. Getting off my track so I can get on God’s track. Check in with me on Facebook, and see how I’m doing. If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, or whatever, I invite you to join me. Maybe even consider your own version of repentance as well. The coming of Christ changes everything. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”