Saturday, December 12, 2009

John's Christmas Greeting: "Repent!"

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. John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I will baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:4-8).

Historically, the church locates these John the Baptist texts in the Advent season. And why not? John’s job was to get people ready for Jesus. And John got people ready for Jesus by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John called the people to repentance—to turn from their sin and toward their God.

Repent—literally “change of mind.” It’s a turnaround word. I was going the self-way, the world-way, the devil-way, but I slam on the brakes, turn around, and go the Christ-way instead. Repent!

This is not such a welcome message at Christmas. Isn’t this the time for merry-making, for holiday cheer, and office parties? Let’s talk about repentance after Christmas. But John won’t let us off the hook. Amid Precious Moments nativity scenes, Rudolph, and Santa, stands this stark character named John, dressed only in camel’s hair and a leather belt. Is that a locust leg between his teeth? And he’s not decking the halls with boughs of holly, he’s shouting, “Repent!”

Let’s take that message to heart this season. Let’s examine ourselves and use this season to turn from our sins and toward our God. Repentance involves three confessions:

First, “I did it.” I’m responsible. I’m the guilty party. I can’t blame my parents, my spouse, or my environment. It’s my fault. It’s my problem. I plead no excuses, no qualifiers, no justification. I did it.

Second, “I’m sorry.” None of this "I'm sorry because I got caught" stuff. None of this phony bologna "I'm sorry you don't approve." Rather, as honestly as I can, I say, "I sinned against God. I was wrong. I am sorry." Period.

And third, “I’ll change.” This is the proof of true repentance. None of this lip-service jazz. None of this, "I'm too old to change." None of this, "I can't change; you'll just have to accept me as I am." But a real and honest willingness to do whatever it takes to change. Real repentance says, "I'll change. If I have to get some counseling to change, I'll do it. If I have to give something up, I'll do it. If I have to start something up, I'll do it. Whatever it takes, whatever it costs, in the power of Christ, I'll do it." Real change. Honest change. Change that shows up in the way we live our lives.

"I did it. I'm sorry. I'll change." That’s true repentance. And in this holy season, it is one of the most Christmas-y things we can do.

Guide to Prayer
- In addition to your Christmas list, how about making a list of your sins from which you need to repent? Seek and receive God's mercy and grace in the process.

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