Last Sunday in my sermon, I light-heartedly mentioned that the old names for the four weeks of Advent were: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Although it would seem very confronting to try to deal with these themes in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it is not a bad way of reflecting on the gospel readings which we have, set for us. This week, in the gospel reading, we hear that John the Baptist is going throughout the area, “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
So, we hear that we need forgiveness of sins. Once again, we are brought up against that word – repent. Or the Greek word – “metanoia”. It means a change of mind. But not just that – to be real, the change of mind must lead to a change of heart, and a change of behaviour. So, this week in Advent, we are called to reflect on our lives, with a view to change. Theidea is to repent of our sin – but perhaps we don’t really understand what sin might be???
It is not easy to grasp. I think it is a word which is over-used in some Christian traditions, and has come to mean different things to different people. It is too often used to denigrate certain people as ‘sinners’, rather than helping us to live the abundant life promised by Jesus the Christ. It is like trying to define ‘evil’. The most helpful way I have found to do that, is to realise that, just as the word ‘evil’ when reversed becomes ‘live’, so it is that evil can be seen as the reverse of anything which gives life. It is the antithesis of life. Evil is something which is good, taken and turned into the opposite. So, we have food, and hospitality, friendship and conversation – which are good; but if they are turned inside out, they may easily become gluttony and greed, jealousy and rumour. What was life-giving, has then been made evil.
Maybe understanding of the word “sin”, can be made easier, if we think of the good thoughts and actions which we wish to achieve at this time of preparation for Christmas, and see how they may be corrupted.
We may want to be creative at Christmas, and make a gathering or meal seem festive and positive. However, we may be over-tired, and become frustrated and snappy when things don’t seem to go well. This is sin, because it does not honour the goodness in you. It might mean that you need to care for yourself (love yourself), so that you can be creative in your gifts of time to others. What other examples might you think of? I know I often sin in this way.
So we first need the time and space to reflect on what our sins are at this time. What is separating you from God? What is separating you from family members? What is taking up too much time and causing you stress? What are the implications of this? How can we change our behavior, to reflect our change of heart and mind?
Then we need to make the change which is required. That is the difficult part.
Of course, following the repentance, comes the forgiveness. Once we have turned back to God, then we are forgiven. The simple act of seeking God’s forgiveness is what is required. As Anglicans, we have a robust tradition. The deacon calls us to make a public confession, and the priest pronounces the words of God’s forgiveness. All is then healed and forgotten. We have a new start. But the repentance has to be real.
That is really John the Baptist’s message. Come, repent, be baptized. Come to a wilderness place – a place where it is possible to see clearly what is wrong in our lives – somewhere we will not be distracted by life itself. Repent of our failure to recognize these things in time to avoid them. Reflect on the damage which has been caused to ourselves, and to God’s other dearly beloved daughters and sons. Change our behaviour to help us avoid the same mistakes in the future. Take time to visualize the way to bring hope and peace and joy and love to the world.
This will be a beacon of hope, and bring in the possibility of peace. God bless your week. Jennifer