The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way. A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
- Mark 1:1-4 -
Advent is the season where we prepare for the arrival of the Son of God into the world.
And this is precisely what John is doing in the passage above. He is a living example of these ancient words from the prophet Isaiah.
He is preparing the way for the Messiah, calling for change in barren places, making crooked paths straight, and telling people that they can be forgiven of all that they’ve done wrong.
But it all hinges on one incredibly important word in the text. The word, “repentance.”
Why is it when we hear that word that we get nervous? I mean, look at how the passage starts. It’s anything but scary. It’s wonderful
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God...”
Look at how the passage ends: “...the forgiveness of sins.”
So why do we take this qualifying word and make it so hard to to measure up to?
It’s because we cling to our illusions... especially our illusions about God.
We often prefer the illusion of a God who judges us according to our behavior, rather than the reality of a God who gives us something that is easy to attain.
Why? Because our behavior is under our own control. Grace, on the other hand comes from outside of us. We aren’t in control of it at all, and that can be terrifying.
SO WHAT IS REPENTANCE?
Repentance, believe it or not is a beautiful word, but we’ve made it ugly with fossilized layers of dogma, doctrine, tradition, and self loathing.
The greek word for repentance is the word “metanoia.”
“Meta” means “beyond” or “big,” and “noia” means “thought” or “to think.”
Repentance. “Big think. Beyond thought.”
Accordingly, in the field of psychology, the word metanoia is used to describe a specific type of progress in a client. It’s “the process of experiencing a breakdown and subsequent, positive psychological re-building or healing.”
If that’s what metanoia truly means, then what does this tell us about repentance?
Simply this - every time we read the word “repentance” in scripture and we start to feel guilty for all that we aren’t doing for God, we are clinging to an illusion about God that isn’t real... not in the least.
Jesus, said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
Yes, there is a certain weight to faith. Yes, there is a certain burden to following the teachings of Jesus, but it’s not heavy— it’s light. It’s something that we can easily carry. And if your faith feels heavy, maybe it’s not really faith at all.
Repentance: “To think beyond. To break down and acknowledge reality, causing us to experience healing.”
And that is good news.
Our illusion of Advent is simply this:
We think that Christ is coming into the world to invite us into a more complete form of behavior modification so that we can finally be loved by God, when in reality, Christ arrives to change our thinking about God altogether, helping us to see that we were already loved by God in the first place.
We need not do anything to be loved by God. We need only whisper, “yes” to the bigger-than-beyond idea that God always has— and just to be sure that we hear the message loud and clear, God arrives into the world to live among us.
This is Advent. God arriving on the scene to make things easier, not harder.
If that was the kind of God you started believing in right now, today, how would it change your life? How would it inform your work, your play, your relationships, your dreams, or your aspirations?
Would it cause you to stop demanding change of yourself and others before you can deem humankind “the beloved children of God?”
This is possible for those who reject the illusion of Advent and embrace its reality.