Readings: Isaiah 30:19-26 | Psalm 27 | Matthew 3:1-12
How often do we all have sins that we would like to see go away and leave us alone already, but then go back and do the same things again? We can’t just say, “oh, sorry” and then move on and never give our sins another thought. But at the same time, we can’t dwell on them, either, or they’ll never leave us. It’s a fine line we walk, for sure.
Saint John the Baptist illustrates the issue. At that time, it says that everyone was flocking to him: “Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan.” They heard his call to repent and embrace the kingdom of heaven. But apparently, also tagging along were a large number of Pharisees and Sadducees, and John saw that their repentance was not genuine. He demands that they all produce good fruit as evidence of their repentance.
And well does he demand this, because repentance has to look like something. It has to be metanoia: a complete change of mind and heart, really a turning around to head in a new direction. It can’t be doing the same thing time after time and expecting something new to happen – that’s not how it works. It’s important to see that this metanoia does NOT imply hanging on to our sins and feeling terrible about ourselves because of them. Indeed, to really turn around, you have to let go of what’s binding you: surrender and renounce the sin and accept the grace of forgiveness.
That’s a very Advent-y disposition, really. Advent is a time of expectation of something new, something uniquely wonderful, something world-shattering and life-changing. In order to really enter into Advent, we have to be willing to be changed ourselves, to have our world shattered, so that we can make a place for the wonderful gift of Jesus to be born in our hearts.
God’s presence doesn’t require much: a stable and an empty manger will do. But if we’ve used the manger to store up our past sins and our impure desires and our fear of real change, then Christ can’t enter in and give us grace and mercy. We have to, have to, have to turn around, head in a different direction, renounce our past brokenness, and clear out the way for Jesus to be born in us and change our everything.
Which is what brings us here tonight. Please God don’t let us be that brood of vipers that wants to put on the act of repentance, but help us really repent. Help us to turn around and head in the direction the star points out to us, which will lead us to your presence in our lives, every time.
Thanks be to God he never stops looking for that empty manger in our hearts.