Second Sunday of Advent - Year A
by Leif Kehrwald
John the Baptist
Did you just hear what I heard? What you make of this character? You’ve got to concede that John the Baptist was a weird dude! Living off the grid, wearing strange clothes, on an “out there” diet – be honest with yourself – would you be attracted to anything he had to say?
I’ll admit right here and now, based on what I read about John in the Bible, and other places, had I been there, I don’t think I would have gone near him. Too intense. Too strident. Too much urgency. And altogether too strange. Reminds me of Ben, the Dad, in the movie Captain Fantastic.
I don’t respond well to the preacher on the soap box.
Be that as it may, John’s message is clear to all: “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And he has a particularly virulent message for the Pharisees and Sadducees – those who consider themselves exempt from the ordinary rules of society, those who claim any sort of privilege or status. “You brood of vipers . . . the ax lies ready to cut you down.”
As a white, hetero, well-educated, male with some influence and authority, I wonder; is John speaking directly to me? Do I claim privilege and status without even knowing it? Perhaps. And yet still, I see myself walking away and dismissing him as too much out of step with my worldview.
I don’t think any of us wants to dig in and explore repentance. Just don’t really want to go there. I resist it because it’s . . .
- hard to admit I’ve been wrong
- hard to accept critique from others
- hard to change
- and, in the end, I know, it’s my choice, and mine alone to act on these challenges.
That said, let’s go there for a minute. Repentance is:
- sincere remorse for what I’ve done wrong, yes
- but also a turning toward what it right and good
- seeking to align the way I live with the ways God is acting in the world
- in essence, it is softening my heart, changing my mind, and claiming hope in God’s mercy.
- and then waiting . . . waiting for goodness to emerge, or forgiveness granted, or for reconciliation to take
As I said, I don't respond well the preacher’s call for repentance, and so I can hardly expect you to respond to my words today.
However, throughout my life, I have learned the meaning of repentance from those who love me, and those with whom I live. Three examples.
First, when my sons were grade school age:
Rene: “How would you feel if we acquired Nonna’s cat, Cleo?”
Leif: “No. Not in favor . . . but willing if need be.”
Rene: “Okay good!”
When Cleo came to live with us, I did not bond well with her. Worse, my behavior toward Cleo reflected my disdain for her. All the while I was clueless to the bond of love developing between Cleo and Nicolo, our oldest son.
Until, one day I am home preparing a talk for a group of parents . . .
Leif: “What advice would you have me give to parents?”
Luke: “Tell those parents to feed their kids enough!”
Nicolo: “Yea, and tell those parents to love their kids’ pets.”
In the years that followed, I can’t say I developed an affection for Cleo, but my repentance, my turning, was to honor the authentic bond of love the two of them shared. And as my sons emerged into adulthood, I am grateful for what Cleo and Nicolo taught me: to honor, trust, and affirm the love relationships that my sons enter into, and to wait patiently for them to discover the authenticity of those love relationships, and if and when the relationship goes sour, to be there with heartfelt support and commiseration.
Second, for more than 20 years, we have had an annual Kehrwald family retreat day . . . [explain].
The retreat day continues because each one of us has experienced a life-change, a turning, at one point or another. One year . . . “Dad, you are not happy. You need a new job.”
I can say with confidence that I would not be standing here before you today had it not been for the repentance/turning I’ve been called to through our annual family retreat days.
Third, the one who calls me to truly deep repentance, is the one to whom I am most vulnerable – my beloved, Rene. If marriage is made up of good days, okay days, and bad days, then I am truly grateful that the majority of days in the life of Rene & Leif are good days – she carries me in her heart throughout the day, and I do the same with her. And I am also truly grateful that in our nearly 40 years together, I can count our bad days on one hand. But those dark days have taught me about repentance and remorse:
So, if you’re like me, and the call of the preacher’s repentance doesn’t resonate, take a look at those closest to you, those who hold you in their hearts, and listen deeply to how what or who they might be calling you to turn away from, or turn toward.
For the last two weeks, Isaiah has been painting the portrait of what a repentant society looks like . . .
- swords into plowshares
- spears into pruning hooks
- the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
- the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
- the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
As a culture, as a society, as a community we need to learn the lessons of repentance that we’ve all experienced as individuals:
Psalm 72 captures it in one line: Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.
And then Isaiah points toward the one who is to come . . . Emmanuel, God is with us! A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse . . .The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him.
As does John the Baptist: Prepare ye the way of the Lord!
And so we wait . . .
We repent – turn our hearts and minds toward God
We wait . . . in hope, in confidence, in prayer
We wait . . . and hold in our hearts our beloved Evelyn Duran, and Dado and John, Joanna, and JD
We prepare ourselves to receive a truly honored guest
We prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, our homes, our community, our neighborhood
We actively wait . . .
That’s Advent! Come, Lord Jesus!
I invite you to practice the Advent virtue of waiting. Don’t cheat yourself out of this spiritual time of pondering what mysterious, miraculous event is about to happen . . . again.
What are you willing to wait on to keep Advent this year? Here are some ideas: