Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent 16 : The Repentance Of God

To ‘repent’ means to turn around, to make a change of direction.

We’ve narrowed that massively, so that we tend to understand repentance as turning from something wrong – as turning from a sinful way of living (i.e. living in broken relationship with God and neighbour) to a righteous way of living (i.e. living in right relationship with God and neighbour). And so we see undergoing John’s baptism of repentance as a person indicating their intention to turn from sin to righteousness.

Repentance certainly may include turning from something wrong, but it is far bigger than that. Sometimes a change of direction is needed, not to return to the right path but in order to continue on the right path. Sometimes repentance is not reactive but proactive: not that we have sinned and need to repent, but that we need to repent in order not to sin. Sometimes repentance is not from but for...

John did not preach a baptism of repentance from sin, in order to receive forgiveness; but a baptism of repentance for – or, which leads to – the forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism proclaims a repentance that results in the forgiveness of sins - but whose repentance?

The start of Jesus’ ministry is marked by his being baptised by John. Jesus was without sin. If John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance from sin, Jesus could not have received it: he had committed no sin he needed to repent from. But John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins:
Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth stands before him indicating his intention to make a change of direction;
to put carpentry behind him and follow a new path – first into the wilderness, from where his path would ultimately lead to Jerusalem and a cross;
to his substitutionary death and victorious resurrection, which result in a new forgiveness of sins...
in a new path to forgiveness, not through the annual ritual sacrifice made by the High Priest, but once-and-for-all.

The initiative lies always with God. For Christmas celebrates the greatest repentance of all: the one who is God from God, begotten not created, with God from the beginning, laid all aside and descended the path from heaven to earth to become a human being and live among us (John 1:1-18 ; Philippians 2:5-11).

As we seek to follow Jesus along the Way, there will be times (perhaps many times) when he asks us to change direction – to move to a new location, to take up a new responsibility – not because where we are and what we are doing is wrong, but because we have reached a turn in the path before us. We turn, for him, for others – an act of repentance that keeps us in step with the Spirit of Jesus – because he first turned, for us.

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