“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” – so cried out John the Baptist to those gathered in the desert of Judea. It is a scene we are all familiar with – but it doesn’t seem very much in the Christmas spirit. It is not in tune with the décor of the stores, malls, offices, and homes. It does not match the seasonal music available on radio, Pandora, or other streaming services. I can’t imagine receiving one of those talking Christmas card that would shout out “Repent!!” when it should play a pleasant and familiar holiday standard.
I suspect many of us would hear the word “repent” and assume it means to make amends, say “I’m sorry” or “Please, forgive me” and promise to never do it again. We have all apologized and promised to be better. Well… that’s a start and a darn good one at that, but is it repentance? Isn’t it the reality that we find we have to make the same apology and the same promise again and again. It is as though we thought we could restore things to the way they were, like hitting a reset button, and would all be good. But it is only a matter of time until the scenario begins again. Something has to change to break the cycle.
Repentance means to take another direction, set a new course, start over, turn around, and not reset and repeat. Here on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, we are reminded we are at the start of a new liturgical year – and maybe, just maybe we are called, to take stock of our lives – to be mindful of all the reset and repeat patterns in our lives. The arrival of Advent might just be one of those patterns. I suspect many of us were surprised by Advent and the arrival of December. We have been engaged and busy about many things – and suddenly there is this inner voice that is saying “Hmmm…déjà vu all over again.” I have been here; I was here just last year. Maybe we need a new direction for the coming year?
I think one of Jesus’ great parables of modern life arriving at Advent is the one about the person who returns to his home after a long trip – a year later. He finds the house, once ordered and clean, occupied by a demon who had wreaked all manner of chaos and destruction within the house. Maybe that is a bit dramatic, but there is a hint of truth somewhere. “Perhaps my prayer life is slipping? Those commitments I made last month – oh my gosh, I need to do something about them! I promised myself I would reach out to them and try to restore our relationship. I said I was going to be more patient, compassionate, and have a kind word for others. Uggghhh! The demons are wrecking my life!”
So we tell ourselves “we are making some changes around here!” In the parable, the man takes charge, chases off the demon, and sets everything in order – back the way it used to be; nice, tidy, and pleasing to the eye. The man then sets off again on a trip. In time, the demon comes back and see that nothing has really changed. The house is quite nice, but quite empty, unoccupied, and no one is paying attention. The demon then invites seven of his demon friends to take over the house. In no time, the house is in even worse condition than before.
What about your house? Maybe you can tidy things up, but that is more reset than repentance. This is not the first time we have come to this exact place. That is when the Baptist voice breaks into our lives: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Advent is a time when the voice of John the Baptist tells us to consider the possibility that our lives and actions are out of step with God’s deep desire for a house, a kingdom, in which there is no room for the demons. Maybe this Advent daydream we can peer into our house, our interior life, and decide to let God be the interior decorator – rather than our resetting things as they were before. If we did that what would God recommend?
Maybe the entry way/front door needs to be welcoming and inviting. It would help to keep the front porch light on so that all know they are welcomed. We could change the floor plan. Instead of having the kitchen way in the back of the house, we will move it up front in our lives. That way people can have access to the heart of the house, the place where true nourishment is prepared and made ready to serve. Everybody eats in the family room. Let’s make that bigger so we can let more people into our lives to gather around our table and be fed. Perhaps the formal dining room should be repurposed – it’s never used anyway. Maybe the formal dining room can become a spare bedroom so that there is always room at the inn.
Maybe that is what repentance is – remodeling our lives on a floorplan that serves God’s kingdom by welcoming, hospitality, and shelter for those in need. Perhaps the house gets enlarged; perhaps downsizing in called for. Who knows? And that is just the floor plan. Then there is the décor and furnishing. Who knows what it will all look like a year from now? And yes, there will be costs – there always are. But it is really an investment in yourself and eternal life.
Advent is the opportunity for more than spring cleaning. Advent gives us a blank sheet of paper, a moment in time to make room for God, and an opportunity to draw up His dream house – and for us to begin living there, full-time.
Repentance: to take another direction, set a new course, start over, turn around, and not reset and repeat. A year from now….who knows?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”