Be baptized, repent and believe!
You might hear this words preached or even be the one preaching on them tomorrow. You might even be reading this while writing your sermon, making the final preparations for worship on the second Sunday of Advent.
Repentance is part of the preparations for Advent. I write about the topic because it has been on my mind all week. From recording an episode of (Her)Men*You*Tics Thursday to preparing to preach at the church I serve, I have been reading about the topic all week and to be honest, I still don’t get it.
“Repent because the Lord is coming” does not sound like the order of things I would take knowing Christ’s
birth return is imminent. Repenting (metanoia, μετάνοια), to have a change of mind, to reorient one’s life completely, seems out of place in a season where the preparations for Christ’s return birth begin with trip to Target and Home Depot and end with deliveries from Amazon and visits from relatives you have not seen (or talked to since last Christmas).
Both the prophet Malachi and John the Baptist knew repentance was something many would struggle with.
“I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”Malachi 3:5, NRSV
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to comeLuke 3:7, NRSV
?Bearfruits worthy of repentance.”
Both of the these verses are outside the assigned lectionary readings for tomorrow, you might miss them if the preacher opted to stay within the confines of the pericope.
There is a warning from both of the prophets, if the refiner’s fire does not purify you or you do not repent, the judgement coming will be harsh. The prophets warned us. We were told before Christ’s arrival that repentance would be required. Yet, we see in the ministry of Christ something different.
Reading Fleming’s work one realizes, “John the Baptizer warns us of vipers to ‘flee from the wrath to come.’ But when God’s wrath arrives, in the flesh, he say – with nary a mention of repentance – ‘come, follow me.”
Howard Thurman was a theologian, pastor, civil rights leader, and the author of Meditations of the Heart. One of my favorite meditations from this book is titled, “The Glad Surprise.” Here is an excerpt:
“There is something compelling and exhilarating about the glad surprise. The emphasis upon glad. There are surprises that are shocking, startling, frightening, and bewildering. But the glad surprise is something different from all of these. It carries with it the element of elation, life, of something over and beyond the surprise itself…There is a deeper meaning in the concept of the glad surprise. This meaning has to do with the very ground and foundation of hope about the nature of life itself… It is as if a man stumbling in the darkness, having lost his way, find that the spot at which he falls is the foot of a stairway that leads from darkness into light. Such is the glad surprise.”
I typically think of the glad surprise being the empty tomb. We see the disciples fearfully hiding after seeing what happened on the cross. They heard of an empty tomb and still hid. It was not until after they received the peace of the Lord, the peace that can only come from the risen Christ, the glad surprise of Easter was able to commence.
The glad surprise of Advent and Christmas is no different. We busy ourselves making the preparations for the season, distracting ourselves from repenting. We shop, we spend, we eat, and we are. In all of this, we ignore the call from the prophets to be baptized and repent. Then Christ is born and we are surprised. We panic. We are not ready. I have a feeling the same will be true when Christ returns again. We won’t be ready. But the glad surprise of Advent is that even when we do not repent Christ has repented for us. As a mentor of mine puts it, “God repents us even when we chose not to.” Such is the glad surprise of Advent.