[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stan Helton is a longtime friend of our congregation, currently serving with First Christian Church in New Orleans.]
As startling as the voice was, echoing across the lonesome desert, the words themselves were even more startling. They were disconcerting, urgent, even intrusive.
Change your lives!
You brood of snakes!
Bear fruits worth of repentance!
The axe is at the root of the tree!
Give away your extra coat!
Don’t extort money!
Change your lives!
Advent is about re-enacting the time of great expectation before the coming of God’s Chosen One. Yet our days preparing for the holidays are full of shopping, visiting those we love, eating wonderful meals together, decorating house and tree, buying and giving gifts, and sending cards or digital greetings.
In this season we easily miss the only really important thing we need . . . to repent. And, oh, by this time, last year’s New Year’s resolutions have worn thin. I have not lived up to my best self—the self that Jesus sees in me. Oh, how I need to hear that voice calling me to repent. And unless I repent, all of the busyness is simply that . . . busyness.
Luke has an interesting way of telling us about John. John the Baptizer fits into the larger story Luke tells in his Gospel and the sequel, Acts. The Gospel of Luke begins with the coming of God’s Chosen One; Acts begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Read together, Advent and Pentecost tell something of the same story.
When God moves, we are (or should be) moved. We cry out “What then should we do?” (Luke 3.10; Acts 2.37). In both Luke and Act we hear to plea: Repent! Change your lives! (Luke 3.3; Acts 2.38). Both contain many other words (Luke 3.18; Acts 2.40) through which God urges us to do to what we need: Repent! Change your lives! But how?
Both Advent and Pentecost hold out the same revolutionary possibility that there is a way for me to get right with God, that is, to bring my life in sync with God’s life. But how can we possibly change our lives? Clearly we can’t — but God can empower us to do what we cannot do on our own. John told his Advent audience that the Coming One would “baptize them with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 3.16) and Peter seconded that to his Pentecost audience, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2.38). That is the secret of Advent: God is bring us the power to do what we deeply want to, but can’t.
The presence of the Holy Spirit is the Bible’s way of saying, “God is here!” So that is how repentance becomes possible. God is with me. God is with us.
So, dear readers, use this busy season to repent freely, deeply, fully. Get ready. God’s chosen one is coming.