Key Theme of Advent: Repentance
Today’s Gospel introduces John the Baptist and his preaching of repentance. He was the last in a long line of prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah. He prepared the way for the Messiah by alerting God’s people to the Messiah’s impending arrival and by challenging them to change their lives by repenting for their sins. A radical abandonment of sinful living was required because God was going to communicate with his people directly through his Son, Jesus, the Messiah. John’s ministry focused on preaching conversion and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Repentance is a fundamental change of heart, or attitude, which results in leaving sin behind and embracing God’s freely shared life and love. Such change is only possible with the gift of God’s grace. There was urgency in John’s preaching about repentance. The time for repentance, he said, is now, not in the future. Repentance through prayer, fasting and charitable works leads to conversion, and conversion is an important aspect of people’s preparation if they are to meet Christ when he comes. John understood from his own experience in the wilderness, where he spent a long time in prayer and reflection, that repentance and conversion were absolutely necessary. Otherwise their hearts would remain closed by sinful preoccupations and they would not be able to recognise the Messiah when he arrived. And, if they could not recognise him, neither would they be able to acknowledge him as the fulfilment of God’s promise to liberate his people. Without a ‘change-of-heart’, a turning back towards God, there could be no appreciation of the Messiah’s presence among them.
John’s preaching of the coming of the Lord is a key theme of the Advent season. As John’s message prepared the way for Jesus in the first century, we, too, are called to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming. We respond to John’s message by our repentance and reform of our lives. We are also called to be prophets of Christ, who announce by our lives, as John did, the coming of the Lord. The reality is that some of us are unrepentant for our sins. We are reluctant to speak about our faith and share it with others. Advent challenges us to become people of hope and expectation as we await Christ’s coming.