In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matt. 3:1-2, NRSV)
I think it’s time for a bit of a confession, and as it happens, my confession is actually about confession. Kinda. See, I like Advent. Maybe like is too weak, I LOOOOOVVVEEEEE Advent. It is my favorite liturgical season, my favorite season in the church year. I love the hymns, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” I love the rediscovery of the power of symbols such as candles. I love the themes: waiting, anticipation, preparation, and repentance.
See repentance includes confession (see the link? Sorry for the pun.) Repentance acknowledges the ways in which one has been living, confesses the wrongs, and turns their back on that way of life. It’s more than saying sorry. It’s more than promising never to smoke, or cheat, or steal, or (insert moral wrong or sin here). True repentance means reorienting one’s life, completely.
That’s what John the Baptizer’s message calls us to do. When he says, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven [read God here] has come near,” John is calling us to reorienting our lives because the time when God’s kingdom is coming soon (we have to learn later in Matthew what to change our lives into, see Matt. 5-7.) God is about to do something new, and we need to be ready. So to prepare for it, John tells us to repent.
Grown up John the Baptist shows up in Advent because he touches on two of the themes: prepare and repent. For John, the two are linked. We cannot prepare for Christ without doing the hard work of repentance (change, turning around, metanoia). Advent is a time of preparation for Christ’s birth. It is a time of changing our lives so we can make room for Christ to be born in us once again. This repentance isn’t limited to us as individuals either, we as a community (and nation, for what else is a Kingdom?) are in need of repenting.
So I guess the question left for us is this: what are the things in our own lives and in our communal lives we need to repent of? Grudges against siblings? A lack of serving your neighbor? Frivolous spending on unneeded luxuries? Ignorance of another’s point of view whether political, theological, or generational?
God through John calls us to concrete action to prepare for the manger. John calls us to change the way we are living and line it up more with God’s ways to get ready for the star in the East. The prophet calls us to change the direction of our lives to anticipate for joy to come in the morning.
Might it be so this day.