Preparing for Advent 3C

In Uncategorized on December 6, 2009 at 9:36 am

The Forerunner

In the Eastern traditions of Christianity, the Orthodox Churches,
John the Baptist is often described as the Forerunner.
The theological equivalent to the opening act,
the figure who warms up the audience for the main attraction.

And there’s certainly something of the theatrical about John.
He harangues his audience, preaches, teaches,
symbolically has them drench themselves in the Jordan river,
the sign of entry to the Promised Land…,
he cajoles those who come to him, blurring threat with promise.
Unquenchable fire and all that.

John’s is a message of change.  A message of repentance.

John the Baptist is well aware of the complex web of motivations
and expectations that bring people to him,
looking to discover repentance, as if it were another country.

As if it were, in a very real sense, the Promised Land.
John is baptising – let us not forget –
at the Jordan, the River that marks the end of exile,
the end of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness,
and the entry to the land of milk and honey.

The call to repentance is, in the Greek original, literally a call to turn around.
This is not some disembodied guilt trip,
but an invitation to reorient ourselves towards God
and towards what we know to be right.
Basic things – to share, to not exploit or extort, to be satisfied with what is enough.
John tells his hearers that these things are far more central to the call of God
than any pedigree of faith.
The call to repentance is inherently the call towards justice.

John speaks, too, about unquenchable fire,
the destination for those not worthy of the coming kingdom.
It seems to have gone down well with his audience.
It’s sometimes what a people under pressure want to hear.
But God has a way of subverting our expectations.

The Messiah long promised
was not the fiery prophet of the desert,
although he was every bit as prophetic as his opening act, the Forerunner.

I suspect even John’s expectations where not entirely on track.
For the Christ was to image God’s compassion as well as God’s justice.
God’s mercy as well as God’s judgement.

Repentance is not simply about going through the motions.
Most of us don’t even have the motions at our disposal.
We don’t have the ritual or symbol or language often right at our disposal
needed to heal broken relationships.

Instead, we in the church are offered the gift of Advent.
A time to be intentional about choosing which way we are facing.
How we are living and relating to others.

Repentance has more to it than saying sorry.
Has very little to do with guilt or shame.

It is about turning around.
An intentional change in the way we are in the world and with others.

Repentance is about restoration and real change.
About a return from exile from our true selves.
There is still time this Advent to turn.


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