SUNDAY’S READINGS | December 5, 2021
Repentance is both a decisive moment and a process. At some point we repent, we turn from a life focused entirely on ourselves, our wants, our needs, our desires, and we look Godward to draw rich and deep meaning from the source of life itself. We decide, we turn, we repent. But following that critical moment, we soon find that what people once called the Old Adam persists and needs to be stripped away.
So, our conversion is first an event, which we acknowledge in the sacrament of baptism. At that time, we ourselves, or others on our behalf, renounced Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, renounced the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, renounced all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. We then turned with our whole hearts to Jesus Christ. We plunged into the waters of baptism and emerged as new beings. Like Jesus rising from the River Jordan, it was as if we heard about our own lives: “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.” God makes spirit-born children who are new, perfect, and clean.
But then we are sent back into the world, and the world is waiting. The world, in this sense, is everything we have renounced in baptism, and its power is immense and its allurement almost irresistible. Influenced by the world (think of constant mass media), Christians are almost inevitably formed more by the influence of the surrounding culture than the faith we profess. For this reason, our repentance, our turning to Christ, requires constant renewal.
The prophet Malachi speaks of the day of the Lord’s arrival as a great purging and renewal. In a sense, the day of the Lord is every day and every moment. “Who can endure the day of his coming,” says the prophet, “and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will stand as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver” (Mal. 3:2-3). Daily repentance occurs as we are slowly, perhaps painfully at times, refined and conformed to the image of Christ. We are refined and purified by the obligations set before us, by our respective vocations, by the difficulties and trials of daily life. John Kelbe, English poet and priest of the 19th century, captures this well: “The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we ought to ask: room to deny ourselves; a road to bring us daily nearer God.”
In baptism, we renounce Satan and say a resolute yes to Jesus Christ. Every day and every moment, we renew this commitment by turning to Christ in the long purification process covering the whole length of our lives. There is, however, something more than purging. We prepare a way for the Lord, as John the Baptist insists. “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5-6). We prepare a straight and secure path, and we go in safety toward the Lord. And there are consolations too along the way. “The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him” (Bar. 5:8-9).
Repent, renew your repentance every day, and walk with joy along a footpath amid fragrant trees.
Look It Up: The Collect
Think About It: To repent and to greet with joy.