We come together this morning on the Second Sunday in Advent…and as we do each and every year on the second Sunday in Advent…we are greeted by Saint John the Baptist.
And, each and every year on this Second Sunday in Advent, Saint John the Baptist has the same message for us:
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[i]
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.
For those newer to the ancient traditions of the Church, Advent may seem a little harsh and out of place…for it is the holiday season and the past two Sunday’s we have been exposed to some prayers and readings that are not all festive in the sense we might hope them to be.
Last Sunday, we had a warning from Jesus to stay awake, that He would return at an unexpected hour…it was a message proclaiming the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ.
And this week, Saint John the Baptist is in the wilderness crying out ‘Repent!!!’
The Baptist is calling out the hypocrite and those who are secure in their faith…He is calling those who will hear to action…to bear fruit worthy of repentance.
This close to Christmas…this is perhaps not what one might expect walking into this place for the first time.
So, this morning beloved in Jesus Christ, let us consider a thing that is essential for our Salvation: Repentance.
What comes to mind when you hear the word repent? What emotions surface when someone tells you to repent?
I am willing to bet…and especially if you were raised in the God fearing South…that you feel one of two ways: either humiliated or angry.
This idea of being told to repent is usually associated with some sort of moral code or law. So…if you are told to repent, it usually means that you have been behaving badly and need to stop doing bad things…or that you are a bad person and need to change who you are.
So, being told to repent implies a judgment…and who wants to be judged by others…
I would like to propose a slightly different take on what true repentance is…of the stuff true repentance is made.
I propose the thesis that repentance is not a legal term, but a change in the attitude of the soul.
I propose that repentance is opening your heart to joy…that repentance is allowing yourself to have the hardness of your heart broken…to become joy-filled and happy.
When Saint John the Baptist cries out “Repent, the Kingdom of God has come near!” what is it he is actually wanting us to do?
Is it to quit being bad…or is it to open our hearts and our souls up to allow love to fill us…
I think one of the most dangerous aspects of our fallen humanity is that we close ourselves off and harden our hearts to Divine love.
That is to say, we have this distorted tendency to self-reliance and to safety and security.
We might love others, but we guard our hearts and our souls so that we do not get hurt. We do not trust others as we were meant to, because of the fear of being let down or being hurt.
So, our relationships with others are dictated by this guardedness. We only allow so much access to our hearts and souls…we keep others at a safe distance so we do not get hurt…or so that others can see the real and true us…the us we know to be ugly and broken.
This guarding of our hearts and souls is unfortunately also and especially extended to God. We do not let God into our hearts and souls fully and completely. We do not trust God with the more vulnerable places in our souls…we meet God on our terms and not His.
We keep Love itself out and rely on ourselves to meet our needs. We keep God at a safe distance thinking it too dangerous to give up control.
Consider the Pharisee and Sad’ducee in this Gospel this morning. We are trained from birth to think of them to be awful, hateful and vile people. To call someone a Pharisee or Sad’ducee is an insult.
But, my brothers and sisters, we are them. They were very devoted to the practice of religion…they were at the center of Judaism…they were the keepers of the faith…we have to believe they were good people who were making some sort of effort…they are the same sort of people who would be in Church today.
By all rights they should have been the ones to receive Jesus…but yet they were not…they are the ones whose titles became insults…why is that?
These devote people became insults because they refused…they could not repent…they could not allow their hearts to be broken and the joy and the love of God to fill their souls. They could not trust in God’s love. They remained self-serving and self-reliant.
John the Baptist warns them to bear fruit worthy of repentance. To understand repentance, we must understand this command…for it is central to the Gospel message.
To bear fruit worthy of repentance is to take action. To bear fruit worthy of repentance is not an intellectual idea…it is not something that we think about…it is something we do.
For fruit is the product of the tree…it was what the plant produces.
So, it is obvious that the lives of these religious folks were not producing worthy fruit…fruit worthy of the Kingdom of God…fruit worthy of the love of God.
These Pharisee and Sadducees might have kept their religious duties…they were unstained by the world…but they bore no fruit. The love of God did not fill their hearts…they did not trust in God…they trusted only in themselves.
To bear fruit worthy of the Kingdom of God is to love others…is to love God and allow God to love you completely and thoroughly…it is to allow God to fill you with joy and peace.
This act of repentance…this producing fruit worthy of the Kingdom of God is done by loving others. That is to say: caring for the poor and the orphan and the widow…loving your neighbor…being kind and welcoming to the stranger…reaching out to others to make their lives better and easier…
Repentance is taking the risk…is expending the energy to love and care for the stranger and the friend. And in these actions we are transformed…we can see more easily the love and mercy and peace of God.
When we take risks and live outside ourselves and our own concerns we see God more clearly…we learn to trust in God more completely…we love God more truly…and we allow God to love us more and more…and in these things we repent and we gain a joy and a happiness that cannot be known outside of God.
So, as we hear the cry of Saint John the Baptist this morning…Repent! For the Kingdom of God has come near!…let us examine our souls.
Do we trust in God or in ourselves? Do we take risks to love others? Do we care for the poor and the unloved?
Are our hearts hardened…Are we self-reliant…or, do we depend on God for every need? Are we filled with bitterness…or does God’s love and peace and happiness fill us?
My brothers and sisters…the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God draws near…we must bear fruit worthy of repentance or risk losing our souls.
We must learn to love God and to love others…We can only do this by bearing fruit worthy of the love of God…we must allow God’s love and mercy to break our hard hearts and fill our souls…we must repent and allow the joy of God to fill us completely.
So, this day, let us commit ourselves to the process of repentance…let us heed the word of John the Baptist…let us commit ourselves to allowing the joy and love of God to fill our hearts…let us repent as the Kingdom of God comes near and come to know a peace and happiness that the world can never give.
[i] Saint Matthew 3.1 RSV