Bishop’s Note: December 7th – Repentance
This Sunday is the second Sunday of Advent, and we see John the Baptist come on the scene with these words: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)
As we look at the marks of a disciple this year, it is obvious to me that a disciple is one who repents!
What makes us Repent? Sometimes it’s because someone tells us that we’ve done wrong and we need to make it right. Sometimes it’s because we feel guilty – we know in our heart that we’ve done something wrong or that we’ve hurt someone. Sometimes we only know that we’ve done wrong – we may not feel guilty, but we know that what we did or said was wrong. But behind all of those things, it is the Holy Spirit convicting us. Some people argue that the feelings of guilt are not godly feelings, but rather negative tapes playing from our childhood. While that may be true to some extent, the Holy Spirit also convicts us and feelings of guilt are the result. This is a good thing. Do we really want to treat people badly and not feel guilty? Of course not! So thanks be to God that He calls us to repentance through those feelings of guilt, which can – with reconciliation – be washed away.
What is Repentance? The term “repent” is a mathematical term meaning to make a 180-degree turn. In other words, imagine you are walking away from the Lord. To repent is to STOP, turn around, and walk back. Therefore, if we are walking away from the Lord in thought, word, or deed, then to repent is to stop and turn around and head back to the Lord. Of course, this raises the question: is it enough to simply turn around? NO.
Repentance requires asking for forgiveness!It is not enough to ignore the rift in a relationship,or even to change our behavior. To leave the hurt unspoken leaves a hole in the relationship. I love the prayer in the Wedding Service that goes: “Give them grace when they hurt each other to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.” Note that the petition does not say “If they hurt each other…” but rather “when.” A few years back, while working with a couple in marital counseling after 35 years of marriage, I heard one of the saddest comments in my life. First the wife said, “I’ve never said ‘I’m sorry.” This was quickly followed by the husband echoing the comment. Both said it with a combination of anger and pride in their voices. I suspect that both were also scared to death that if they showed that kind of vulnerability, their spouse would use it as a weapon. And so, they live almost as strangers in the same home. Needless to say their children have learned this modeled behavior and also have a difficult time asking for forgiveness.
What does Jesus say about Repentance?“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 4:17) We repent because, indeed, the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand; Jesus is close at hand. Repentance ultimately leads to reconciliation – but that is for next week’s Bishop’s Note.
I pray you all a blessed Advent!