December 4, 2022
Repentance this Advent
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77493
Advent 2 2022
Advent is a season of waiting. Waiting for the birth of Christ and of the coming of Christ into our world once again. We make sense of mystery in the church by encountering it in a series of small stages and steps. That is the beauty behind the liturgical calendar and our various seasons. What are we to do with this time of waiting? Last week I spoke about being awake and staying awake, looking for God’s presence in our world already. Well preparation is another theme. So how do we prepare? Well repentance is an aspect, and we hear that from John the Baptist this week.
You see, Advent is also a season of repentance. I realized in talking with some people last week that I really haven’t made that point as well as I should. Repentance is why at both services we add the Agnus Dei, Lamb of God to the end of the Eucharist. Rite 1 adds the summary of the law at the beginning. At 10:30 we are using Prayer C which has language that is about sin and repentance. The service is pretty much the same as Lent and that is because of the repentance theme. And yes that means the Alleluias go away until Christmas Eve.
Now I have been thinking about repentance. At the November Clericus we were asked “what did each of us think was most important this Advent.” One priest said, “Repentance. I think we need to spend some time on repentance, for the things we have done, and the things done in our name which has caused harm to God’s creation and each other.” At first, I was not taken by the idea, but for some reason this week while memorizing the John the Baptist passage that word seemed to call for extra emphasis.
Now this is not about moral worthiness, but a desire from God to reconcile us with what God desires for creation. Jesus became incarnate to reconcile us to God. Not because God didn’t love us because of our sins, but because we needed to learn of God’s great love for us.
Repentance is more than saying I’m sorry. Now for a long time I was very uncomfortable with the concept. That was because I didn’t really understand what was involved. Repentance often digs up images of guilt, unworthiness, fear of judgement and for some, punishment for their sins. That would be the wrath of God stuff, which I will explore some next week. The concept of unworthy is not the same as worthless. That sends you down the road of shame and that is not what this is all about. In fact, anything we do that causes shame may count as a sin. Why?
That brings up the question what is a sin? A sin is anything that breaks the relationship with or separates us from God, another person or creation. Sin does not necessarily mean breaking a rule, but is a measurement of what effect our choices or actions has on others. Picking up on last week’s sermon, sin is what sends us away from God. Remember I mentioned the theologian who emphasized that God is always coming towards us and that the problem is that we often are walking away from God rather than towards God.
Now here’s a little reality check. We all are sinners. We all sin and our baptismal promises know this. There is the question about sin in the baptismal covenant and it says, “and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” Operative term is whenever not if. I’m sure that word was carefully chosen. We are called to repent, which means to make a conscious change in our behavior. Sorry doesn’t change behavior or eliminate sin, but repentance does, and that difference is important.
Repentance will make what Isaiah said happen in our lives. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ But to prepare the way we must be awake, alert, and willing to change.
Richard Rohr wrote “We can also use other a words for Advent: aware, alive, attentive, alert, awake are all appropriate! Advent is above all else, a call to full consciousness and a forewarning about the high price of consciousness. There is a cost both to being awake and a different cost for closing our eyes or looking the other direction.”
The cost of being awake is that we will see the many ways in which the kingdom is not here and if we notice, then we will be called to address the bumps and blockages in the road that prevent the Lord from coming. Asleep and we go on blissfully unaware of what we are missing, but then we miss the world that could be, the world that God desires for us. This would be moving away from God unintentionally but the effect, the separation is still there. Repentance means opening our eyes and then making a change in what we do so that we can help bring the kingdom to fruition. This is all about moving towards God and a deeper relationship.
So where is the path going that we need to prepare this Advent. If we are aware, alive attentive, alert, awake, to the movement of the Spirit, where is the path going to lead? I would like to propose that before we can prepare a path for the Lord to go anywhere, we first need to prepare the path to our hearts, our souls, our very essence. Maybe the start is to truly embrace repentance in a healthy life-giving way. Repentance requires a change in us, either our thoughts or our actions.
Repentance is not so much about our guilt feelings but about God’s power to transform us into Christ’s image. The beauty of all this is that God is simply waiting for us to turn back, to allow Jesus to take down the blocks that sin creates to that loving relationship.
Brother Geoffrey Tristram of SSJE said in a sermon, “The Psalms tell us that God actually ‘delights’ in us (Psalm18: v. 19), and so I believe that God delights in me when I come to that place of encounter. I don’t have to do much more than that; I just have to show up, full of expectancy that God is there waiting for me, even more, that God ultimately has drawn and invited me to that place and that time of encounter.”
True repentance is not about us, but about allowing Christ’s healing light in. The preparation of Advent is not about our own self-purification but about Christ’s purification of us and allowing ourselves to be worthy vessels of his love. This is not about groveling under the table and beating ourselves up. This is about being open the love that Christ has for us.
Today many of us may feel like we are in the desert. Like the ancient Hebrews we want someone to lead us out right now. In fact many of us sound like the Hebrew people of the first century, angry, scared and whining. But we are on a journey and in many respects the important work happens on the journey, not when the destination is reached. The journey however starts by making the path to our heart straight. The journey begins first by allowing Christ to enter in and heal us. We cannot help to heal the world until we allow Christ to heal us. We cannot love the world until we allow Christ to love us. We cannot make the way straight for the Lord to come into our world, until we make the path straight for the Lord to enter into our hearts, our souls, our minds, our very being.
In the words of one of our Advent hymns, “Come Lord Jesus quickly come.” Come follow the path into our hearts so that we may make the path straight for you to come into this world at Christmas.