Second Sunday of Advent
God’s grace and peace be with all of you.
Repent! Repent, repent, repent! Our gospel reading today sounds like it belongs at the beginning of Lent, don’t you think? The repeated refrain is for repentance. John’s proclamation is for repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” People are hearing John’s message and coming out to the Jordan River to confess their sins and be baptized.
This baptism, the baptism of John, is baptism with water for repentance. And John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees: “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” There is repentance all over this passage.
As I said, usually we think about repentance more during the season of Lent. But the second Sunday of Advent has given us an opportunity to reflect on repentance during this season.
So what about repentance? What is repentance, anyway?
Our first thought about repentance is that it involves feeling sad about something. We imagine how it plays out with a child: a kid is playing carelessly, knocks a lamp off a table, it shatters on the floor. The kid tearfully apologizes to the parent and accepts the appropriate consequences. Repentance.
But that’s a very limited image of what repentance can be. Repentance is more than just feeling bad for something you’ve done wrong.
Some of you may have heard a pastor say at some point that the Hebrew word for repentance means “to turn around.” That’s one way of thinking of repentance—it’s turning, turning away from sin and turning towards God.
However, the books of the New Testament, including the gospels, were written in Greek, not Hebrew. So in Greek, there is a different word for repentance: metanoia. That’s the word which occurs in our gospel reading today. Unlike the Hebrew word for repentance, which suggests turning around, the Greek word for repentance means changing your mind or changing your thinking.
When John says, “Repent,” he’s saying, “Change your way of thinking, your way of imagining, your way of looking at the world.” But it doesn’t stop with your thoughts—a changed way of thinking should show itself through changed behavior. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance,” John instructs. The fruit you bear—your actions, your behavior—demonstrates how your mind has been changed.
Repentance means changing our minds. But of course, this is more than just changing your mind from wanting vanilla ice cream to wanting chocolate. This is changing our minds from what we want to what God wants, what God intends, what God wills. It’s changing our thinking towards God’s will for us and for creation.
Repentance is more than just being sorry. Repentance is even more than promising, “I’ll never do that bad thing again.” Repentance is about a transformation, a turning around, a change of mind, that takes us away from self-centeredness and towards God’s design.