Lectionary blog for Dec. 4
The Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19;
Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
One day in Nashville I went to the YMCA to pick up my son. As I approached the entrance, a very angry mother barged out the door followed by a girl of about 4 and a boy about 7. The boy was saying, “I told you I was sorry.” Suddenly his mother stopped, and turned, and bent down, and looked him in the eye and said, hissing between her teeth, “Sorry doesn’t get it anymore. I want you to stop doing it!”
Our Gospel lesson for today centers on John the Baptist’s call to repentance. Repentance begins in the recognition of personal involvement in and responsibility for the evil that surrounds us. John’s call to repentance is a call for us to look at ourselves and to see in ourselves and our attitudes and our actions the things that lead to evil in the world. John’s call to repentance is a call to look at our way of being in the world and in relationship to one another and to repent of those things that cause harm to ourselves and others. John’s call is a call to confession and repentance. All too often, we make it as far as confession and then stop. Confession is the admission that there are indeed things we do in life that are wrong. We confess that and go no further.
True repentance combines confession, “I’m sorry,” with what the old prayer books referred to as amendment of life. The Greek word translated here as “repentance” is not really a religious or theological word. It is “metanoia,” which is an ordinary, everyday word in Greek. It simply means to turn around and go the other way—to stop going in one direction and to start going in the opposite direction. It means to realize you’re going the wrong way and to start going the right way. The gospel, the good news, is rooted in this simple act of repentance: a) being sorry you’re going the wrong way, and b) turning around and going in the right direction.
None of us goes the wrong way on purpose. Nobody in Chicago would go out and get on the interstate highway and intentionally head east with the goal of going to San Francisco; that would be silly. And if, when you realize you’re going toward New York when you want to go to the Bay Area, you just shrug and say “Oh well, I’m only human,” and then you cry and gnash your teeth about the fact that you are getting farther and farther from your goal while still purposely going the wrong way, well, that would simply be ludicrous.
Just so—few of us choose to do bad things just because they’re bad things. We follow the paths we take in life because they seem to us the right, the best, the moral way to go. And if we then realize that we’re in the wrong, to confess without amendment of life, without changing our ways, would be as inane as continuing on to New York, all the while knowing we’re going the wrong way.
The gospel comes to turn us around, to show us the way, to warn us of the danger in the path we are taking, and to provide for us a route to safety. The gospel is that Jesus came into the world to open for us the way to God—to unblock the path and to call us to follow Jesus on the way. For us to turn from the way we have been going, we must come to see that we are being called to turn from danger to security, from evil to good, from wrong to right, from our way to God’s way.
One of my very earliest memories is of a bright summer day on the farm. I was playing in the backyard, under the apple trees. My Daddy was mowing hay in a field next to the house. Mama called to me from the back-porch. She sent me into the field with a quart jar full of ice water for Daddy. As I started out across the field, Daddy stopped the tractor and got off and started yelling at me. “STOP! STOP! GO BACK! GO AROUND! STOP!”
Now, even as a 4-year-old, I knew that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so Daddy’s instructions made no sense to me. But I stood in the field thought about it a minute. Though I could see no reason to stop and go back and go around, it was my Daddy telling me this, so I backed up and followed his instructions. When I got to the tractor, I discovered that he had run over a yellow jacket’s nest in the ground and had stirred them up. The angry swarm was directly in the path I was following.
So it is with us. We may not be able to see the destruction that lies upon the path we have chosen, but we have a loving God and a caring Savior who are calling us to turn from the path of self-destruction. John’s call to repent is a call to look to our lives and change direction, so that when Christ comes, we will be ready.
Amen and amen.