The gospel reading for the second week in advent is Matthew 3:1-12.
Whenever I go to visit my friend a few hours drive away from me, I rejoice when I see the signs along the Interstate with slogans like, “Repent! Prepare to meet thy God!” and, “Repent for the end is nigh!” It’s not because the message speaks to me in any special way - it’s because seeing them means I am only about five minutes from my friend’s house. I have to say, seeing those signs is about the only time I rejoice at seeing calls for repentance. I tend to tune out at the scriptures that talk of trees being thrown into the fire for not bearing good fruit, or the grain being stored in the granary and the chaff being burned in unquenchable fire. These are not comfortable passages in the Bible, and a lot of times, they are used in harmful ways.
[We should think] of repentance as more of a holistic turning around of the way we live and think.
But John Wesley himself, the fearless founder of our Methodist Movement, said that the only requirement for joining the Methodists of his day was a desire to flee from the wrath to come (a phrase John the Baptist uses when calling the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers). It seems strange that the man we associate with being dedicated to helping the poor, building up the people within the church, and with constant talk about grace also had repentance and the wrath to come as a foundational talking point.
Perhaps, though, this focus on repentance makes a little bit more sense if we think of repentance as more of a holistic turning around of the way we live and think, and less of a single-minded fleeing from a fire (think of a frightened Thumper in the movie Bambi). Repentance can be realizing that you have been hurting people by ignoring them in favor of looking at your phone all the time and then doing something about it. Repentance can be looking at how you spend your free time and realizing that you do not involve yourself in the community as much as you could… and then doing something about it. Repentance could also be realizing how much we judge people who are unlike us and doing something about it by withholding judgment.
There are behaviors we can all repent from.
There are behaviors we can all repent from, both individually and communally. This is not to say that we need to immediately run and confess all of the ways we have fallen short. But we do all need to take time, especially in seasons like Advent, to take stock of how we spend our time, our money, and our mental and emotional energy, and turn away from those things that we know could be cleared away.
Discussion Questions: What are things within your life that you could do without? What have you turned away from recently that that has been good to do without? What beneficial habits have you added recently? How have you benefited from this practice of taking stock within your life?