The Second Sunday of Advent; Year C (12/6/2009)

Metanoia — Turning in a New Direction

Lessons:     Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9     St. Luke 1:68-79 (78)     Philippians 1:3-11     St. Luke 3:1-6

Prayer of the Day     Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

St. Luke 3:1-6 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

A Sunday School teacher once asked the class what was meant by the word “repentance.” A little boy put up his hand and said, “It is being sorry for your sins.” A little girl also raised her hand and said, “It is being sorry enough to quit.”

The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, the Baptizer, in the wilderness. That word said to him: repentance. The call to repentance lay at the very heart of John’s ministry – at the very heart of what he was doing to prepare a place for Christ in the hearts and lives of his listeners. My American Heritage Dictionary has a number of definitions for the word repent, ranging from “to feel remorse or self-reproach for what one has done or failed to do” (not so great) to “to feel remorse or contrition for one’s sins and to abjure sinful ways” (better). But repentance is not simply admitting fault, or feeling badly about what one has done.

These days, a popular response to error is the dismissive, “My bad.” Often, this phrase is uttered in such a way that the wrongdoer is able to admit fault, but move past it so quickly that nothing at all comes from the admission. It is like the child who disobeys a parent for the sixth time in a row. Eventually, “I’m sorry” isn’t enough to carry the water. One wants to see sorrow that is profound enough to help the child behave in a new and different way.

What John offers his listeners is something much deeper than “I’m sorry.” John commands us to prepare for Christ by entering into repentance. In Greek (the original language of St. Luke’s Gospel), the word is μετανοία (metanoia). More carefully translated, this word means “to turn about” (Gingrich), “to change one’s mind or purpose” (Liddell-Scott), or “to make a change of principle and practice, to reform” (Moulton). Repentance begins with reflection, but continues with action. Not only do we feel remorse about what we have done, but we turn about, change our minds, and move in a new and different direction.

 The little girl was right. Repentance doesn’t only mean being sorry. It means being sorry enough to quit.

John teaches us that when we are immersed (baptized?) into repentance, the result is a turning of our minds and a turning of our practice. This new direction is a sign of God’s presence and power. Of course none of us will every fully turn in God’s direction – that is a mark of our humanity. But to the extent that God is able to turn us, we truly experience what repentance means, and truly experience what forgiveness of sins is all about.

As he does each year at this time, St. John the Baptizer once again calls each of us to repentance. His call to repentance is the beginning point for a deeply profound experience of God’s love and grace. May our experience of repentance take us far beyond the dismissive “My bad” and the insufficient “I’m sorry.” May it turn our minds and turn our practice in such a way that we experience the transforming power of God that is ours in Christ. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does it mean when St. Luke records the names of so many powerful people, but announces that the word of God comes to a lonely prophet, living in the wilderness?
  2. What is the relationship John describes between baptism, repentance and forgiveness?
  3. What does John’s image of valleys being filled and mountains being leveled say about repentance?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What has it been like for me when someone has harmed me, and then offered what seems to be an insincere apology?
  2. What offenses have I committed, from which I desire to turn away, and move in new directions?
  3. How does my understanding of what it means to repent in the presence of God influence my understanding of what it means to repent in the presence of one whom I have offended?