Waiting on the Fire of Repentance

Isaiah 40:1-11  •  2 Peter 3:8-15a   •  Mark 1:1-8

The Scriptures read on the Second Sunday of Advent lead us to contemplate repentance and waiting.

Repentance isn’t just confession and being sorry for one’s sin. Repentance is opening up to transformation, thus turning around and going in a new direction. Repentance isn’t saying I’m sorry and then carrying on as before. Repentance responds to an offer for a different way of life one in line with God’s vision of the world. Repentance is a response to God’s offer of a different way of life. Repentance is not only asking forgiveness for doing a thing called a sin, but being open to change and transformation that leads one away from doing particular sins. Repentance prepares ourselves and the world for the presence of God that reorient ourselves and opens us to our true selves.

In the work of John the Baptist repentance is what prepares the way of the coming of God in Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter, there is a connection between our repentance and waiting for the ultimate transformation of the whole cosmosthat is to come. The radical transformation we open ourselves to in repentance is what Peter envisions is happening to the entire cosmos. It’s not that the burning up of the cosmos ends the cosmos but to use a Pauline term purifies it like smelting silver and gold. The physical universe will not cease but is transformed by a smelting fire to burn away all that is opposed to what is true, good, and whole. This is the work we open ourselves to through repentance. It is why the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was preceded by this call to repentance. God was reforming God’s people in and through the work of Jesus of Nazareth. This restoration always connected with the Jewish people into which the other peoples of the world were grafted into as God restores humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

This restoration and transformation requires a repentance which in turn upends and undermines the presumption of the State and its demands of loyalty and assertion that it is the solution to human need and oppression. The good news of Jesus Christ Son of God, is a radical and political statement that sets things a blaze by using the political mythology of the Emperor for a Jewish peasant in the back water of the Empire (As Jason Chesnut has pointed out in his recent Advent reflection.) The repentance the Gospel, the good news, calls us to is to turn from our faith in the salvific claims of the State, the power of the sword as St. Paul the Apostle summarizes it. As Paul indicates that power of the sword may be necessary to constrain evil, but that power can’t transform the cosmos and cannot bring about the deepest and permanent change we desire. Only God at work in Jesus of Nazareth does this.  God does the patiently, slowly burning away the dross of sin, unrighteousness, injustice and oppression, transformig us and the entire cosmos.

In repentance we willingly become subject to this work and become participant in it. repentance is a waiting for the consummation and a movement by which we are participants in God’s work in Jesus Christ. We are acting and waiting in repentance. During Advent we are at the beginning and the end. How does this good news of Jesus Christ move you? Do you know what you are waiting for? Have you made the turn and opened yourself to God’s transforming love?