In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord ,make his paths straight.’ ”
If you were to spend a moment daydreaming about your idea for a perfect Christmas, what images would you conjure up? I see pews bursting with the faithful. Wonderful music and candlelight. A blessed and joyous time with family and friends. What about you, what do you see? A family gathering with no quarrels and filled with Christmas good cheer? Healing for a love one who is ill? Time with someone you miss? What is your dream?
Did you perchance dream about “repenting”, what John called his audience in the wilderness to do in preparation of receiving the Messiah. We seldom think about repentance in relation to Christmas. We usually think of celebrations filled with joy. Repentance is usually associated with feelings of guilt, not doing enough or not measuring up. So John’s blunt message, with no mention of forgiveness or grace, is difficult to hear as we prepare for the special celebration of the birth of Jesus.
So for this devotional let’s do an exercise. First, take a sheet of paper and make a “to do” list for Advent. Jot down the various tasks you need and want to get done in the next two and a half weeks to prepare for Christmas. Maybe you need to do last minute shopping, buying groceries, all those things that still need to be done in preparation for Christmas.
Second, on another piece of paper make a list about what you hope Christmas will be like. What kind of day do you want to have? What kind of world do you want to live in this Christmas and beyond?
Write down what your hopes are for you, your family, your community, our nation and the world. Third, now that you have a picture in your mind of your deep hopes for your life and world, put your two lists side by side. On your “to do” list circle those tasks that contribute to your hopes and longings for your life and the world.
How many of the items on your “to do” list help work toward your hopes and dreams for your life and the life of the world. As we begin to put things in perspective we just might get a glimpse of our need for repentance. After all Advent is also about the second coming of Jesus. Are we prepared for that event?
Sometimes we get lost in the first coming of the Christ child and we ignore the second coming of Christ that is before us.
John’s call to us today is for us to repent for the purpose of living into a larger hope and grander vision of what Jesus is calling us to be and do – bear fruits worthy of repentance. Our repentance is about living into the kind of hopes, dreams and adventures that bring us to the joy of Christmas. May your hopes and dreams of Christmas begin to resemble what God has planned for you, for us, and for all people – salvation.
May you have a blessed preparation in Advent and a joyous Christmas.
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.