The Readings for Sunday 8th December 2013 or Second Sunday of Advent Year A:
[These readings can be found at www.universalis.com for the next few weeks.]
I pride myself on my fairness, my ability to see both sides, to understand how and why things happen. And yet twice recently I have felt embarrassed and ashamed of myself for not getting offended when those around me did.
The first time was at work, I was talking to a friend about a film and she said it gave her nightmares. While the film we were talking about was a violent film, I struggled to see where the nightmares could come from. So she explained to me that the scene where the slaves were made to fight each other for the pleasure of the owners really got to her, because that wasn’t that long ago. How could people be that horrible to other people? My first thought was wow, I am so proud of you for saying and feeling that, my second thought was, “Why didn’t I get that upset?”
Only last week Gail and I went to see another film at the cinema. The film portrayed a future world, where most of the people lived hard lives, food was short and they had to work long hours just to get by. Then we see a small elite group in the capital at a party. They filled their stomachs at overflowing tables, then drank a small glass of something to make themselves sick so they could eat some more and try everything on offer. Gail was incensed, such waste with so many needy people. She wasn’t incensed by the movie, but by how well it satirised our world. Again I was proud of her, and again I questioned myself about my reaction. I had appreciated the idea, I had seen the connection to our world, I had smiled but hadn’t got offended.
We are often too calm about what is wrong in our world, in our lives. We are often too complicit in the wrong doing.
We need someone to call us out.
We need to be called a brood of vipers sometimes.
We need to look closely at ourselves and challenge ourselves.
John the Baptist is challenging you. He is challenging me.
We may not be an easy target like the Pharisees and Sadducees in our scripture, but I know I all too often take the easy route and do not do the right thing.
John is telling us we are not good enough.
John is telling us to change.
John is telling us to repent.
Repent….What does that really mean. Think now, what does that word, that act mean to you….
Imagine you are in a desert, not a sandy Saharan style desert, but a wilderness desert, dry grass and small shrubs, a few trees scattered around. Ahead of you is a small light, a flame flickering in between the blades of grass, you start to walk towards it. You are fascinated by the glow of the flame, the beauty and the warmth. Enchanted by the way it appears to live and dance before you. All too quickly it starts to consume the grass, then growth bigger, hotter, consuming brushes and trees, rushing headlong towards you.
You stop, you consider, then in an instant you have turned, you are running, ahead of you in the distance is water, a lake, no a sea, huge and endless. You rush straight towards it hoping you will reach it before the flames reach you. With every step you take the water rushes towards you, each stride moves you miles towards safety. You plunge deep into the saving water, safe from the fire behind you.
These are the images that John teaches us. To repent is more than saying sorry. Repentance is turning away from sin and rushing towards God. God will rush towards you faster than you can imagine, but you have to turn and start to move towards him.
Repentance is a very familiar word to us Christians; it was as well to the Jews. Maybe it has become tame or bland, as it was with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Maybe we have become too easy going in a world that does far too much wrong and nowhere near enough right. Repentance should be a fast and frantic action. If you realise you are in the middle of a fire you run, if you realise you are sinning, shouldn’t you be running towards God as fast as you can.
The season of advent is about preparing for Christmas, it’s about preparing for the coming of Christ, that is what John was helping the people to do. He wasn’t recommending Christmas presents to the wise men or planning party’s. He was preparing the people to meet Christ.
Advent is only a short time to prepare. You need to stop. You need to look around you and recognise the fire. You need to turn to God and run. You need to plunge into His forgiveness as you did at your baptism. You need to be ready to stand before your God on Christmas morning. When you welcome Him with joy, He will welcome you with joy. Together you will be able to walk out into the world, walk out into the fire, unharmed and ready to do some good.