LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE.
Jesus speaks to you, even this day, saying:
The way John the Baptist has prepared the Way has been with this message: “Repent. The kingdom of the heavens is at hand!” What he does with this message is prescribe the entire life of the Christian as one of repentance. Which means, if you ever find yourself at a loss as to what you should be doing for God, simply stop and repent.
Used 34 times in the New Testament, the word for repent literally means change your thinking. In your life of sin, you think sins, most especially your own, are ok. As long as you stay away from the big ones, God will look down at you and wink.
In the New Testament, repentance becomes an act of man and is always used in reference to what you should do with your sins: change your think. However, in the Old Testament, repentance was being enacted by someone else.
Listen: Samuel writes after Saul rejected the Word of the Lord and was removed from the throne of
saying, “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or repent, for he is not a man, that he should repent.”
Many generations later, Jeremiah speaks similarly saying: “For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.”
The picture we begin to see is that God appears to live in direct contradiction to John the Baptist’s words in not being a man who repents. Of course, you say. God is all powerful and all knowing. He has nothing of which He would need repentance. And the unbelievers would ask what about cancer? What about starvation? What about Trump’s election?
The sinner feels God has much to repent over and the Old Testament even talks about that. Again from Jeremiah we hear, “...and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will repent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.” But we can’t forget the flip-side and also hear, “…if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will repent of the good that I had intended to do to it”.
Also remember the most famous of God’s repentance in the story of Jonah. St. Jonah goes to
and rebukes the entire kingdom for their sin. It is not Jonah, but the
unbelieving king of that country that responds, “Who knows? God may turn and repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish."
So when we get to Jesus commanding that we prepare the way, the Lord has already showed us the way by walking it Himself: the way of repentance. For God does repent in Jesus. Jesus comes down, claims to be God, and everyone takes Him so seriously that they put Him to death for all the crimes God did not repent of, according to us.
And the cross shows this to us. The cross is where, “The Lord repents concerning this: 'It shall not be,' said the Lord” as St. Amos records. God goes down this way of repentance first, to show us just how its done and how far we are away from it.
So now that the way of preparation has been accomplished in Christ, we hear
St. Isaiah, whose candle we
lit today, tell us: “Remember these things and groan; repent you that have gone astray” and also hear
King Solomon give us proverbs of encouragement: “The simple man believes every word, but the prudent man comes into repentance”.
We repent, because the Lord first repents. We continue to repent only because the Lord has commanded it. We do not grow weary of repentance or fall into despair, because we have the hope of forgiveness. We draw near with a baptized heart and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness, because in Christ forgiveness follows repentance every single time.
God has nothing to repent of. He has no need of it, because He offers salvation and comfort in the cross of His own Son. He can bring disaster or avert it. It makes no difference to the Christian, because Christ is on the cross for him and is all the rescue needed. Our repentance is done in faith and faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus, God also refuses to repent, unleashing His wrath on His Son, yet this just opens the way for fruitful repentance. For John’s message, and the entire OT message, was repent or else. In Christ, because He was made flesh and suffered and died, the message is now, “Repent! For the kingdom of the heavens is near, to forgive.”
Only in Jesus is our repentance worthwhile. Thus, our entire life is one of repentance, not because we hate ourselves, but because it is the only place where Jesus gives forgiveness instead of punishment, when we bring Him bad things. At this Good News, faith drops everything, gets on its knees, and gets every sin out of its system that it can.
The Good News that Christ was made man now makes us believe that we no longer have to groan in our sin, though we should hate our sins and be horrified by them. Now,
St. Isaiah’s words
of comfort and peace can only be found in repentance, not just to our minds,
but because of Christmas, comfort and peace are brought to our bodies as well.
Not because we simply act out repentance, but because our warfare with sin, death, and the devil has been ended for us. Our iniquity has been pardoned. The Glory of the Lord is revealed on the cross and the promise of forgiveness stands forever. All of our repentance; all of our preparation would be for naught, for in it we only have a reminder of our sins, year after year.
But, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no longer any need for offerings for sin. Now in the blood of Jesus we have confidence to enter this holy place, “…by the new and living way that He opened for us through the veil, that is, through his flesh,and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts [baptized] clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”