Posted on Dec 08, 2013 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator and Sustainer, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit that abides in each of us. Amen.
Repent, repent, repent! Like a broken record, we here this word all year long, don’t we? As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our LORD, Jesus Christ, we hear, Repent! In Lent, when we will prepare for the death and resurrection of our LORD, we will hear, Repent! Then as we live through those ordinary times, we constantly hear, Repent? It is a word, and a call for our lives, that seems to never stop.
For many of us, we have grown to dislike the word “repent.” After all, if I have to repent, that must mean I am doing something wrong. The word “repent” literally means to have contrition and to change. When John said “repent,” he was challenging those he was speaking to in the wilderness, and you and I today, to look at our lives and determine what it is that is keeping us from experiencing God’s love for us. From John’s perspective, once we have done this, our goal ought to be to change those things so that we can experience God. In simple terms, we are to turn away from those things that go against God’s ways and turn toward God and his ways.
But, if I need to change my life, does that mean I should feel guilty for how I am living now? Do I have to feel guilty for my lifestyle? Is it wrong of me to live in a nice home, with some of the finer things in life? Do I need to live like John the Baptist and wear “itchy” clothes and eat bugs? Absolutely not! Repentance is not about feeling bad or saying, “I’m sorry” for the things we have or how we live our lives. Oh, sometimes that is a part of our repentance, but repentance is not about giving up everything we have and living in poverty. No, repentance is about a re-orientation, a change of perspective and direction. It is about a commitment to turn and live differently, so that we might better experience God and witness to his love, mercy and grace for all people. Repentance is about finding ways to walk closer with God, not feeling guilty. Repentance is about re-orienting our lives and realizing how blessed we are and finding ways to walk with those who are in need. Today, we have an opportunity to do this by sharing our blessings with the people of Children’s Memorial.
As Matthew shares this message of repentance with us today, also, notice what he tells us about those that John was challenging to repent; “Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6).
Not only were the people of Judea and Jerusalem, Jews, going out to hear John, but also people from “all the region along the Jordan,” as well. Matthew wanted us to know that not only were Jews going out to find how they might experience God in new ways and to be baptized, but so were Gentiles. These would have been earth shattering words in Matthew’s day. For the Jews who heard, and witnessed, such an act, they most likely could not believe it. After all, the Jews were God’s chosen people. By their very birth right, God’s kingdom was for them. The Gentiles were outsiders and did not know God’s ways. How could they be included in this baptism of repentance? But according to John the Baptist, the people of Israel were no better off than Gentiles. In defense of the Gentiles, they were unaware of God’s ways, but the Jews, knew God and were aware of his ways. They, as John points out about their leaders, were hypocrites, because they refused to prepare their lives for the coming of the Messiah. We know God’s ways and we are challenged today to prepare ourselves for his coming, again.
And so John challenged those who would listen to not define themselves, or limit their hopes, based on their ancestry or piety, but rather to dream a larger hope and bigger vision and to work toward a better world by “bearing fruits worthy of repentance.”
As I have said, repentance is not about feeling guilty, it is about dreaming big. It is about finding ways to live into God’s kingdom, which has already come near to us. Repentance is about bearing fruit that will witness to God and God’s kingdom.
So as we prepare for the coming of our LORD once again, I want to ask you a question. As you think about this coming Christmas, what kind of day are you hoping you experience on December 25th? Or, even more than that, what kind of relationships do you want to experience? Or, even bigger, what kind of world do you want to live in this Christmas and beyond? (Allow for answers here)
The promise we hear today from John is that God has an incredible dream for all his people. God desires that all of us, even those who are not here, even those who live on the streets, even those who suffer from addictions, even those who…, you fill in the gap to experience his presence and his goodness in their lives and to truly experience God, we all need to find ways to reorient t our lives.
The hopes you have shared here this morning for your ideal Christmas, are the same hopes God has for us. Like the prophets who dared to speak about God’s dreams for his people, like the humble beginnings of our LORD in Bethlehem, God desires us to think BIG, when it comes to living out his call for us. Our hopes surely ought not be limited to our immediate wants and needs but reach out to include our larger families, communities, and world.
Repentance is about knowing that we are already saved. Repentance is about accepting that Christ has come, he is present and he will come again. Repentance is about constantly reorienting ourselves to Christ and his ways and daring to think as big as God. Isaiah did this. Remember what we heard from him last Sunday. He spoke a word about a world where swords have been beaten into plowshares and now this week we receive a picture of life where the wolf and the lamb rest together and all are equal and live at peace with each other. Does this sound impossible? Does this sound like utopia? Well it is impossible and it would be utopia, but Jesus himself told us that with God all things are possible. And in this Advent season, we are preparing for Immanuel, God with us. So if this is what God says will happen, maybe we could begin to find ways to reorient our lives to be a part of those dreams.
Today, we are challenged to look at our Christmas “to do” lists and see what we might add to that list to help us bring about just a little bit of God’s big dream. Today we are challenged to repent, and repent and repent. Repentance is not a one-time act. No, repentance is a daily act, that we ought do over and over. We are called this day to change daily, to reorient ourselves daily so that we, too, might prepare the way for our LORD and his big dreams
Brothers and sisters, today we have been challenged to re-imagine repentance as a joyful and challenging activity and to receive Advent as a gift rather than an obligation. So in the words of John the Baptist, Repent, Repent, Repent! Amen.