December 8, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
“Repent” is the first word spoken by John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel (3:2). Repent is also the first word spoken by Jesus when he begins his public ministry in Matthew’s Gospel (4:17). The English word, “repent” comes from the Greek word, “metanoia”, which literally means, “change your mind.”
Repentance, this new mindset, leads to new actions. True repentance always includes a change in behavior, a change in the way one lives one’s life.
Unflinching honesty is essential for repentance to happen. John’s voice challenges all of us who are tempted to compromise our principles in favor of looking good and being popular. John’s message challenges us not to believe the lie that we can get what we want with the least amount of effort. John’s voice becomes our conscience when we are encouraged to disregard the needs of others in order to take care of Number One, or when getting caught becomes a bigger shame than what we are caught doing.
John the Baptist teaches the truth about a life of integrity, and the fruit of relationships lived in honesty and respect. He rails against arrogant reliance upon one’s presumed sense of privilege, against complacency, the shirking of responsibility, and disinterest in the welfare of others.
But why should we care about John’s call to repent or even make the effort to do so? Because, as he says, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (3:2) John the Baptist will lay down his life preparing the way for the One who will bring about God’s Kingdom.
You thought God was far away in heaven, distant and uncaring. Change the way you think about God, for in Jesus, you will be able to reach out and touch heaven come to earth.
When we repent, we are able to dream about a whole new world. When we change the way we think, we can then imagine and live in the Reign of God.
In his writings, the Prophet Isaiah paints a picture of this new world, of a world where the rule of God reigns. Isaiah writes to a people submerged in a culture of fear, whose minds are controlled by fear, and we are that people. A politic of fear has frightened and divided us. So, like the people of Israel to whom Isaiah speaks, we are living through a pandemic of depression which kills hope, for hope is the casualty lost by the depressed.
People in sorrow and depression suffer from a sense of hopelessness and an impoverished imagination. They simply cannot imagine a world different from the one in which they feel imprisoned.
This Advent Season presents us with the opportunity to recapture, with Isaiah’s help, our imagination and capacity to dream into being a new world. Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of a peaceable kingdom, where not only human beings live in peace, but all of Creation is at peace. The peace in this kingdom is more than simply avoidance of conflict, but intimacy between predator and prey, as the wolf and the lamb come together in peace.
The long-awaited Messiah who ushers in this new way of living has already arrived. Heaven has come to earth in Jesus, son of Mary and son of God. The greatest truth which John the Baptist prepared people to receive is the truth that God is with us in Jesus.
When we know and believe this truth, when we receive Jesus who is the Truth of God’s love, then everything changes for us. When we re-orient our lives to make the Prince of Peace the center of our lives, then we change the way we think and act and live.
Salvation comes from God to us through Jesus, but God still expects and awaits a human response. The all-powerful God chooses to save and re-create humankind, but only with our cooperation.
The ongoing re-creation of humankind and of the world in which we live comes about through Justice. The way we humans help grow the Kingdom of God on earth is by working for justice.
When justice flourishes, human beings live in right relationship: in right relationship with the God who always saves; in right relationship with all members of the human community; in right relationship and with the created world.
Under the rule of God’s reign of justice, artificially created boundaries dissolve Strangers are welcomed with joy, and all people work together to meet the needs of all. The future toward which Isaiah points us, the future which Jesus brought into the present with his dream of the Kingdom of God, will not be characterized by exclusion, but by inclusion, for salvation in Jesus is open to everyone.
Salvation means the triumph of God’s justice, empowering us to witness to God’s reign, and includes the respectful and loving care of this earth and all God has created. Salvation is about much, much more than “saving one’s soul”—it is about sharing the saving love of God in Jesus with others and with all Creation.
If we want peace, we work for justice. Charity is a good thing, but we who dream the dream of God’s kingdom know that it cannot be the only thing. For we are called not only to feed the hungry, but ask “Why are they hungry?” We are called not only to lift up the poor with our gifts, but ask, “Why are they poor?” In a world where there is an enormous disparity between those who have and those who have not, we address the root causes of injustice, the structural nature of sin.
So that the broken may be healed and find peace.
We have been given the gifts of the Spirit to bring about this peaceable kingdom. These gifts are given not only to the Messiah, the newborn King, but to all of his subjects, to you and to me. Wisdom and understanding, knowledge and counsel, strength and fear of the Lord. Empowered by the fiery love of the Spirit and with the Spirit’s gifts, we can prepare the way for the coming of the King of Kings, so that justice may flourish in his time and the fullness of peace forever.