Let us pray:
By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The Gospel of John tells us: “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (1:6-7)
Can you picture it? John the Baptist, standing in the middle of the Jordan River, witnessing before his questioners, in the words of John’s Gospel, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know;” and in the words of Mark’s Gospel, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
I wonder if, when John baptized, a real presence of Something Else was felt, I wonder if a new perspective was immediately gained in that new moment coming up out of the waters, being born anew. Perhaps a shift from “life as we know it” to awakening into a new awareness that the Light of the World had indeed been born among us and the Kingdom of God has indeed come near.
I wonder, in the age of John the Baptist, had the religious establishment grown too distant from their own awareness of God’s holiness? I wonder, had the collective memory of their ancient past, their wilderness experience when God was very real and present, grown hazy with the distant years? I wonder, had their faith become rote, ritualistic, meaningless, numb with no sense of awe and beauty? I wonder, if we might find ourselves in similar straights here in this day and age?
I began listening to Jon O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace this week in my freedom from classwork. I have been meaning to read some of his work, along with some of John Philip Newell’s reflections on our spiritual journey through gifts from the Celtic tradition. O’Donohue writes of a time he returned home from school on break and, upon entering the kitchen, met in his father’s gaze something that hadn’t been there before. It was as if something else had entered his father’s looking, and John recognized it.
I was deeply struck by his description and especially of the phrase, “as if something else had entered his father’s looking…”
One of this week’s Advent themes is repentance. Why do Christians talk about repentance in Advent, just before we commemorate and celebrate the birth of Christ? Isn’t that too solemn a topic? Too sad? Too heavy when so much of this time of year is supposed to be infused with joyful anticipation?
I would be naïve if I did not mention that this time of year is very difficult for some. Grief, loss, longing for the past, an ache for a belonging that has not come to pass, even depression from unfulfilled dreams are often lurking not too far under the surface this time of year. I hear it, I recognize it, and I can even own one or two of the points I just lifted up now and again.
Repentance is a theme this time of year because we simply dwell sometimes in those places of darkness, when what God wants for us is a life filled with light. Historically, Repentance probably comes from our Jewish fore-bearers in the celebration of Yom Kippur, or the “Day of Atonement,” when one fasts and prays to atone for the past year’s sins.
In the liturgies of the Christian year, we remember this two ways: with the call of John the Baptist in Advent as we prepare for the birth of Christ and a new birthing of Christ-likeness within us for the new year – and weekly in our corporate worship. The Hebrew testament records in Leviticus 16:29-30 that it is a command of the Lord; the Christian testament reminds us in Paul’s letter to the Romans as well as the first letter of John.
A second theme for this week’s reading is Good News. Yes, there is repentance and remembering our sins, but Jesus is coming to cast out our sin and enter in, soon to be born in us again. Good News, John tells them! “I am the voice of one calling out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord!” “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”
John preaches, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at Hand!” Ah, come quickly Lord Jesus! Call us into your kingdom, that we may be ever thankful that our sins are indeed forgiven as we look forward to a clean slate, a new beginning. Indwell in us, we pray; lift us up in all our earthiness and bestow unto us a heavenliness, that we might be heralds of your coming and pro-claimers of your peace. Like the Shofar sounds, let our souls shout in triumph that you are our God and we are your people.
May all glory be unto the One who lived and died and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Question for Reflection
John 1:6–8, 19–28 reminds us that we are not the light, but with John we are called to testify as witnesses to the light, who is Jesus Christ. The verb “to bear witness” occurs thirty-three times in the Fourth Gospel! How can you bear witness, in this season of lights, to the true Light who has come into the world?
Household Prayer: Morning
Light of the world, you greet me this morning with new possibilities. Shine brightly, I pray, until I see into the dark places of this world, and into the dark places of my own life. I want to follow you in paths of justice, speak up with you for liberty, and bend with you toward the brokenhearted, even the broken places within myself. I trade in my faint spirit for your mantle of praise—and with my whole being I will rejoice in you. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Restore me, O God, from the rush of the day. Let me dream this night of all the great things you have done. As the darkness comes and these little lights in my house glow, I give thanks for the greater Light no darkness can overcome. To anyone who mourns or sits in prison or fears danger this night, bring the peace that only you can give. You are faithful, and I know you will do this. In Christ. Amen.
 John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. SoundsTrue audio recording, 2004.