In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3)
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:1-12 (NIV)
Repent. It’s not a word we like to hear. It means we need to change our outlook, our opinions, our view of others. It’s a word that says we not only need to identify our sins, but to confess to God and others that we fall short. We’re not doing things correctly- too much we have done should have been left undone, and so much left undone that we should have done. The apostle Paul shows us in Romans 7 that as long as we live in the “not yet” world, we will struggle with the dilemma of being both God’s saints and sinners who sin. We can’t just straighten up and “fly right,” but we trust that Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing for ourselves.
Repentance is more than “I’m sorry I got caught,” or even a mia culpa. It is a deep desire to turn from our sins, a gift of the Holy Spirit that promises that in our baptism our sins are drowned and washed away from us every day.
John the Baptist points out that Abraham’s children are the children of the promise- the children who God has raised up in Christ. John the Baptist points us to Christ, the one who was far greater than him.
In this season of Advent, we not only celebrate Jesus coming to us as God-with-us, we also look to His return to this earth. The end of days as we know them and the re-creation of heaven and earth can and will occur at any time, but there is no cause for those who belong to Christ to fear. Since we who trust Jesus know that we are baptized, named and claimed for Him and that He has won the victory over death, Satan, evil and hell, we look forward to that day. The day of the Lord is near. Repent and turn to Him. He provides us with all we need, now and in the world to come. O, come, o come, Emmanuel.