The Second Sunday in Advent
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
My mother, without much provocation, will gladly tell people that as a child I was known to walk into parked cars. Not stopped cars, mind you. Parked ones. Our neighbors cars. Oldsmobiles and Buicks and Fords. With shiny metal bumpers. With my mind deeply focused on the deep thoughts and childhood imaginings and chin slightly elevated to the sky with a far off dreamy look, I never saw them coming. Wham! I would find myself crumbled on the ground brushing pebbles off various body parts.
If I only had turned around.
Even at the last minute.
Pulled my head out of the clouds or dreams or thoughts or wherever it was.
It would have saved several pairs of jeans over the years and more than a shred of...let's say dignity. Much less embarrassment perhaps.
If I had only turned around and gone off in another direction, preferably one not blocked by a large domestic automobile.
How different those years might have been.
Is it surprising to learn that turning around - that changing direction is an important biblical concept. To repent is to literally turn around go in another direction - instead of going your way, go God's way.
We folks have a hard time going God's way. And we have for a long time.
Look at Genesis. We are going God's way - listening, serving, loving God.
god tells Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil then Bam! The serpent tempts Eve and through Eve, Adam, to disobey God. To go in another direction. To march to the beat of a different drummer.
They don't start off repenting either. Instead they play the blame game.
From Genesis 3:9-13
But the Lord GOD called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord GOD said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate."
In fact, they never do explicitly repent and their story fades from view with the birth of Seth, after the death of Abel.
John the Baptizer proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and we read that people from the whole Judean countryside came to him in the river Jordan confessing their sins.
The Lord is coming he says. One so great that he was not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal - the job of the lowly slave. Prepare his way. Repent. Change direction.
There was a woman who I met while I was still in training to be a pastor who had an adult son whom she loved dearly. She raised him and brought him to church as a child and taught him right from wrong, but it appeared all for naught. As he moved into adulthood he fell into deep addictions, moved back home, stayed out late at night, hid drugs in the house and so on. It was every mother's nightmare. Would he come home tonight? Was that a police siren? How long would he stay clean this time? Her prayers grew desperate, difficult, and more and more earnest until one day she prayed to God that her son would die. Then she prayed, she would never have to worry and suffer each night. Just take him God, she prayed.
And he didn't come home that night.
In the morning she saw his body slumped over in the driver's seat of their car out in the street in front of the house.
For a moment we could imagine what went through her mind.
Had God listened to her?
She banged on the window and he stirred.
He had been not dead, but asleep.
I had been another harrowing night and he was done with it.
That very night , that awful night, he had made up his mind.
He repented. Changed direction. Sought a different road not his own.
His own having only led to pain and heartache and self destruction.
She told me this story without emotion.
Her voice only began to crack when she spoke of his life after that long night. How he straightened out and cared for her. Made something out of his life and now as hers was nearing its end he was there always to be counted on, full of love and strength as her own strength waned.
A ship changes direction with a rudder and we cannot change direction of our own power, our own strength, our own wisdom. It's when we think that we know what is best for ourselves that our ship runs aground. We're back in the garden again listening to the serpent's voice:
He said to the woman, "Did God say, "You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
And those voices are always out there, urging us to seek a direction to call our own. And our path always leads to self-destruction
The good news is that we do not have to change our own direction on our own. Help comes.
We know how hard it is, at least for men, to go back the way that we came and try a different route when driving, even when we know that the road that we have taken is the wrong road.
Inertia kicks in and pride and stubbornness and our own desire to fix the problem that we created by continuing in the same direction until we are no longer lost. I mean after we drive past China we know that we are heading back to where we started, eventually, right?
On our own, we don't stand chance to repent.
Powerful help is there for us. Poured out for us and into us in our baptism. We have been baptized with the fire that John promised would come in and through Christ Jesus for our sakes.
And it will not forsake us. It is close at hand. We know that even if the decisions that we may make in life cause us to forget for awhile. Blind us to the possibility. The first step that we take in repentance is guided by the Holy Spirit, inviting continued formative change in our life, reshaping us into the image of Christ. One has come and is coming. One more powerful than I or you. We aren't worthy to untie the thong of his sandals either, but he takes us by the hand and leads us onward in a new direction. Thanks be to God! Amen!