Thursday, December 08, 2005

Repent!

I've been reading Watch for the Light as my Advent devotional this year, and last night's piece by William Stringfellow was very interesting.

Stringfellow highlighted the penitential aspect of Advent. I'd heard this brought up twice before in different contexts earlier this year, and both times it just didn't click with me. Once I've sung "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" I have a hard time feeling anything but longing.

The perspective Stringfellow offered, however, was based in the fact that John the Baptist is one of the main figures in the Advent tradition. And what is John the Baptist's message? "Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!"

Somehow, that made it click for me. It brought together penitence and preparing for the coming of Jesus. How could I make room in my heart for Christ apart from repentance? As a good Lutheran I could never confine this to the traditional sort of repentance that involves self-loathing and long faces, but the beauty of turning my heart toward Christ and making straight his paths is there.

So the idea struck me that next year, instead of sending out the traditional Christmas card with words like "joy", "peace" and "love" sprinkled liberally over the front, I should send out Advent cards that read "Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!"

3 comments:

Tom in Ontario said...

For us Lutherans repentance comes after hearing the good news. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Sounds like good news to me. In "Free to Be: A Handbook to Luther's Small Catechism," James Nestingen and Gerhard Forde write:

"Jesus once pictured repentance with a surprising parable. 'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,' he said, 'which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field' (Mt 13.44). Apparently the man wasn't even looking for a treasure--he just stumbled across it. And then, instead of advertising in the lost and found or telling the owner, he rushed out to find enough money to buy the field.

"Both parts of the movement Jesus called repentance are in this story. First, because the treasure made the man willing to sacrifice everything he had for it. Then, he ran to buy the field, to take hold of the treasure.

"Luther emphasizes both parts of the movement in his explanation of what Baptism means for daily living. As God gives his gifts, the sinful self dies each day and a new self, the new you, arises, getting wrapped up in the promise."

A feeling of longing after we've sung "Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel" isn't fruitless or pointless longing because we have the promise that Emmanuel has come and will come again. So I'll continue to send cards that proclaim "Joy," "Peace," and "Love" because I think hearing that is the first step to repentance.

Shalom

Andy said...

I completely agree. The idea that led me to this post is the contrast between the typical Hallmark Christmas card and the idea of a card saying "Repent!" I agree that repentance involves accepting the joy of God's kingdom as good news. Most of the people I send Christmas cards to need that kind of repentance -- especially at Christmas.

LutheranChik said...

Re sending the card: You first! LOL