We are backing our way toward Bethlehem. We’ve looked to the future return of Jesus, and at how Jesus comes to us in our own lives. On Advent 3 we look at Advent through the eyes of someone focused on being prepared for Jesus’ earthly ministry. Still no baby in a manger, but we’re getting closer.
Depending on the year, in this week’s Gospel reading we may hear John the Baptist denying that he is the messiah, preaching that we really should get ready for the messiah, or stewing in prison, worried that maybe Jesus was not the messiah after all.
A common thread of these texts is God’s call to live a new kind of life. I like the way it is phrase in Luke’s Gospel:
“Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:8)
This takes a word that often has a negative spin and shows that it has a very positive intention. Ripe, juicy, healthy fruit. Mmm…
“Repent” just sounds like a downer — something in our behavior is wrong and we are told to stop. Advent is, technically, a penitential season, so maybe it is about time we should talk repentance.
John the Baptist and the Heidelberg Catechism both see a positive purpose or direction for repentance. (I’ve been blogging about the Heidelberg Catechism all year in honor of its 450th anniversary. See the rest of the posts by clicking here.)
There are two sides to repentance: there is leaving the old behind, but there is also turning toward the new. As I posted almost a year ago, in Q. 88 the Catechism calls these
“the dying-away of the old self and the rising-to-life of the new.”
Today, in Advent, I want to look at this positive side of repentance — at Heidelberg’s fuller description of what John the Baptist called “fruits worthy of repentance.”
Here is the question and answer in full:
90 Q. What is the rising-to-life of the new self?
A. Wholehearted joy in God through Christ
and a love and delight to live
according to the will of God
by doing every kind of good work.
“Wholehearted joy” sounds pretty good. Same goes for “love and delight.” Maybe this repentance stuff isn’t so bad after all.
There is a problem, though: I cannot do any of this by force of will.
I cannot make myself joyful — my emotions are not at my command.
And that love and delight is supposed to be about living God’s way. I can try to live God’s way — but something deep inside has to shift to make me love and delight in it.
If this whole positive side of repentance is about “rising-to-life of the new self” then it is entirely out of my reach. Only God can bring new life. When God is at work, changing my heart, then joy emerges. When God shifts some stuff around deep inside me then my motivations change. Then I can start to love to do what God wants.
That is my prayer for me and for you this week. May God be doing deep work in your heart and soul. May he help you “repent” toward joy and love and delight — that is fruit worthy of the name.
Spending time drawing close in prayer is an excellent start for me.
What helps you seek and find the joyful new life that defines repentance? I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know.
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