The Third Sunday of Advent
Repentance and the Good News of Change
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, Quiet our minds, quiet our hearts, in this Advent season, and create in us a true desire for you, that we might prepare with right intention and real effort for the indwelling of your Christ in our world, in our lives, and in our souls.
“So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people”
You know, I think it's funny the way that we change. The way that we change our likes and our habits as we get older or move into different phases of our life. The way we can even change very deep parts of who we are. Of course, I don't know how it works with you all, but if I ever even think about saying, “oh I'll never do that, or I'll never eat that, or I'll never like that,” well, it is pretty much guaranteed that I will, eventually. I mean I was never ever going to just sit down and snack on sliced tomatoes, enjoy anything with avocados, or most especially get anywhere near any type of olive much less enjoy them, and then I got married. Now I enjoy all of those things, and I watch shows that I'd never before heard of, enjoy movies I used to make fun of, and sometimes even secretly listen to music that is completely embarrassing. I still dare to say though that I will never enjoy ketchup! Yuck!
I have experienced this kind of changing on a spiritual level as well. See I was raised and have always leaned towards a fairly low church attitude liturgically and otherwise (snake belly low actually if you ask Fr. Rob). Somehow, in recent years, I have inexplicably gone from somewhat of a distant and critical view of the Saints, to now daily wearing and contemplating a bracelet which is covered by them. Whereas before I stayed away from spiritual images and objects, I now have what I would call a tiny obsession and pray daily with Anglican rosaries.
In both my broader call to ordained ministry and in my being called to serve here at Ascension in particular there is a similar theme. I clearly remember laughing at and adamantly refusing to take seriously the various people who approached me about the priesthood throughout the course of my life, and many of you have heard me share the story of how I tried very very hard not to end up here, in this wonderful place and with you wonderful people. Boy that sure worked out didn't it? Good thing I'm not a gambling man!
Very recently though, actually within the past week or two, there's another change has taken place within me. A change that I was highly resistant to. A change that I feel connects to our Gospel lesson today. You see, until last week's Sunday service, I had actually never once before dipped my fingers into the waters of a Baptismal font and crossed myself upon entering a church or a service. Strangely, for the past few weeks something had been moving me to do so, regardless of how hard my ridiculously rebellious personality resisted it. So eventually, I cracked. I did it, and I almost instantly realized and experienced the reality of why such an action is so important. In reading this morning's Gospel, I realized that this idea of change, and the experience I recently had were in some way deeply connected to the words that John the Baptist speaks to us today.
You see, John the Baptist really was proclaiming the Good News to those who followed him as is stated in our Scripture this morning, and he does the same for us now. I just think we too often might get distracted by the words, and miss just how Good the news of John was and continues to be. Though perhaps it does not seem fitting, other than the brief mention of the word, because of all the harsh language and almost violent imagery encountered in this passage, I have to admit that I still found myself really hoping that we would have a Baptism today. I found myself hoping that we would have the chance to witness together and the opportunity to engage in the very thing that John the Baptist calls us to this morning. Because really, that is what today's Gospel is all about. The Good News, re-pentance, re-birth, re-creation, re-newal, Baptism; the chance to change and start again.
My friends, today, along with the Israelites, we are each being called back to our beginning. We are each being called back to change. Just as John called Israel back to the desert, back to the place where they entered into a covenant relationship with God, so too are we being called back today by the words of John to the very waters of our Baptism and to the very place where we entered into our own covenant with God. We are being called back to our beginnings both as a reminder of our very real commitment and promise to constantly work to change, and as a reminder of the very precious and incredible gift of repentance that we were once and are continually offered by our loving God. That is what I now realize was moving me to the font, to engage in that important and powerful liturgical action and tradition described earlier. It was the gift of repentance, the gift of change, the gift of Advent preparation. That is what was so important about John the Baptist's words then, and what continues to make them so important now. John calls us back!
That is the true meaning of repentance. It is the turning back. Back from our busy and important lives towards the quiet and unknown desert. Back from our all consuming selves towards God. It isn't a hard or scary or harsh thing, it's a gift. It's simply the failure to do so which John warns us of today.
You know part of me thinks that maybe we've forgotten just how important Baptism is. Perhaps because we see it all the time? Perhaps because most of us were Baptized as infants and don't remember? Perhaps because we sprinkle? The truth is that Holy Baptism marks our commitment to repentance and that it should continue to be a reminder to us of that commitment always. Whereas John was calling people to repent by returning to their covenant with God. Baptism reminds us of our own place with God, of our own covenant and promise to live a life that is constantly turning back, constantly re-pentant.
So this is why our font is placed where it is, and why such traditions are developed around it, which I always knew and understood but never until very recently allowed myself to experience. For when we walk in to this or any other sacred space, and even just pass the font, it is meant to remind us of our passing through the waters of Baptism. It is meant to remind us of the waters that cleansed us and the promises taken which then allowed and prepared us for approaching God, just as we relive or re-enact, or re-celebrate the gift of Christ every Sunday in the Eucharist. The font prepares us for the Altar Table, just as the repentance and commitment to change lying at the core of Baptism prepares us for the salvation and promise of forgiveness lying at the core of Christ.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ we are currently in a season of preparation and change, the season of Advent. Because in this season, like at the font, we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ into our hearts and our lives in a new way, I thought it would be fitting, in lieu of a Baptism, to ask us to do something different today. So today, I want to ask us to renew together our baptismal covenant.
*****Here lead the people in saying the Baptismal covenant from the Book of Common Prayer ******
Page 304 of the BCP
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today and always, and together, let us ever celebrate the gift of, and ever live into our promise of repentance. Together let us prepare. Together let us change. Together let us turn back to the desert. Let us turn back to the waters. Together, let us forever turn back to Christ.