Repent! Metanoeite! Turn around!

2nd Sunday of Advent (A) – December 8, 2019

St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12

Advent is not just a time to get ready for Christmas. It is, but it’s more than that! More important than Christmas is preparing ourselves for Jesus’ second coming. It’s easy to forget, but we say it every Sunday: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed). Advent is meant as a wake-up call to this second coming! Just like Jesus came once, he will come again.

John the Baptist has strong words in this Gospel today. John is out baptizing in the wilderness, preparing people for Jesus’ first coming. And who shows up? The Pharisees and Sadducees. But they aren’t there because they are truly repenting. They are there to cover their bases, just in case—they come to be “baptized” by John. And John calls them out on this. He says, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” In other words, “You can’t just get water poured on your head and think that everything is good. You have to live it!” And these words from John are a call to each of us!

Are we here “just in case,” just to “cover our bases”? Are you here just mouthing along? Do you get your children baptized and bring them for confirmation “just in case,” out of superstition, trying to avoid hell (if it even exists)? Or have you accepted the Baptism you yourself have received? Are you trying to accept it, even though it’s difficult?

John the Baptist’s message is simple: “Repent!” But what does that mean? Go to confession? Feel bad for the bad stuff you have done? Well, sure. That’s fine. But it’s deeper than that! John begins his preaching with that one word: “Repent!” But the word for “repent” in the Greek isn’t just “repent.” The word, “metanoeite” (Μετανοεῖτε), really means, “Turn around!” John the Baptist is telling the people: “Turn your minds away from the attitudes you have defined for yourselves as the goal of your life, and come back to the mind of God.” Stop trying to decide what is going to make you happy! Stop trying to make all of these plans for your life that will make you happy! Stop telling God what you need to be happy! “Repent! Metanoeite! Turn around!”

In the Christian life, repentance, true repentance, means to turn around and live like Jesus Christ. Metanoia, then, means a “forgetting” of self, a “self-annihilation.” It means that someone else becomes the most important thing in your life. You are not the center of your life, someone else is. The life of a Christian, the life of the Baptized is living for another, not just one’s self. The Pharisees, they live completely for themselves! It’s all about them! But for us, for the Baptized, life is always, always, always about Another.

I always think of my mom when I think about this. My mom is one of the most incredible people I know. As me and my siblings were growing up, she made some of the most incredible sacrifices for us. But the one I will never forget is how she never thought about herself! I mean, you ask her what she wanted for her birthday or for Christmas, and she couldn’t even tell us—because she honestly hadn’t thought about it. My mom’s entire life was dedicated to us and my dad. Every decision she made was about what was best for us, what was best for the family. She made decisions that made us so mad! She forced us to go to bed, she made us clean our rooms, she made us study, she wouldn’t let us watch TV all day, she forced us to go outside, she never allowed video games in our house. But she made those decisions for our good. I love my mom because she always took care of us. Even when we didn’t like her—life was not about her own ego, it wasn’t about whether we liked her. She was not the center of her life, my dad and her kids were.

That is a Christian life! That is to live like Christ. That is what it means to live your Baptism. The Christian life means that Someone else becomes the most important thing in your life. You are not the center of your life, someone else is.

But that means you have to stop telling God what is going to make you happy. When we sit around all day dreaming about how things would be if we were in charge, complaining that things don’t go the way we want—when that is our life, we are just sitting in our own misery. Repent! Turn around! Because when you do, when someone else becomes the important thing in your life—when God himself becomes the most important thing in your life, something truly incredible happens.

John the Baptist closes with, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” With the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus doesn’t just come and teach us nice things. Jesus brings power, a power of regeneration, of rebirth. Jesus invests us with this power at our Baptism—the power of the Holy Spirit. And like fire, it stirs up our hearts, kindles in us the flame of divine love, and changes us from within.

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