Advent 2B (12/10/2017)

Lessons:Isaiah 40:1-11 Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 2nd Peter 3:8-15a St. Mark 1:1-8

Prayer of the Day: Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming strengthen us to serve you with purified lives; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

8.1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

St. Mark 1:1-8, 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.

Baptism of Repentance for the Forgiveness of Sin

Anyone who has paid even modest attention to the season of Advent knows that it is a season of preparation. As John the Baptizer “prepared the way” for the coming of Jesus, Advent prepares the way for the Risen Christ to enter into our lives today. This week’s Gospel lesson helps us to see how this preparation takes place.

St. Mark (the Evangelist) depicts St. John (the Baptist) as a first-century Isaiah. He is dressed like Isaiah. He eats like Isaiah. He speaks truth to power like Isaiah. And perhaps most importantly, like Isaiah, the hope of his ministry is to transform the lives of God’s people.

The transformation sought by St. John has two significant aspects. First, a person comes to understand the extent of his or her sin and brokenness. Second, through the grace, love and forgiveness of God, this sin is forgiven, and a new heart — a new mind — begins to emerge.

At the heart of John’s presentation is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), which is translated “repentance” in English. This notion is commonly understood to refer to the sorrow or contrition that a person might feel because of past, sinful actions. But the original intent of μετάνοια is more profound. A literal translation of the word would be “the transformation of one’s mind,” and has to do with a complete change in thought and behavior, with respect to how a person thinks and acts. μετάνοια is what happens when someone is so deeply touched by God’s grace that a whole new attitude and way of living begin to emerge.

I’ve been thinking about μετάνοια as I’ve followed news stories related to the #metoo movement in our land. It has been shocking and revealing to hear, almost on a daily basis, the accusations of misbehavior leveled against politicians and leading figures in the entertainment industry. It seems the “me first” and “grab all you can get” messages of our society have encouraged powerful and influential people in these sectors to behave in predatory and harmful ways. I’m grateful so many of those who have been harmed now feel empowered to speak out publicly about these abuses. And it seems that, at least in the entertainment industry, those who have misused their positions of power and influence are swiftly being removed. These seem like important and healthy first steps for us to take.

But I suspect John the Baptizer would call for a stronger response. It is one thing to punish a wrongdoer for past indiscretions. It is another thing to work for μετάνοια in their lives. Will perpetrators of these harmful actions express sorrow or contrition, lay low until it seems the furor of public reaction has subsided, and then gradually work themselves back into the same positions they once held? Or will they be held fully accountable for what they have done, be expected to look deep within themselves to discover why they acted in such ways, hear words of forgiveness and restoration, and be led to a completely new way to think about life, themselves, and the people who surround them?

The latter is the journey John the Baptizer calls us to walk. Not just during the season of Advent, but throughout our entire lives. Accountability, introspection, absolution, restoration and transformation lie at the heart of Advent practice. The question remains: will we embrace this, and allow it to shape who we are and who we are becoming?

God guide us, inspire us and strengthen us on our Advent journey this year.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How did John’s ministry affect the people of his time?
  2. Why was water baptism a potent image for the transformation John sought in his followers?
  3. What similarities are there between the ministries of John and Jesus?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What past misdeeds of mine still haunt me?
  2. When have I been changed, by coming to terms with wrongs I have done?
  3. How do the message of John and the ministry of Jesus give me hope?