The voice of the prophet cries in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert the highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3). John echoes these words as he invites all of Judea to accept a baptism of repentance as preparation for the coming One, mightier by far than his cousin.
Few of us like to feel the pangs of repentance. It requires painful acknowledgement of our real condition, and it punctures any self-delusions about what we are capable of. Yet, without repenting, we continue in our obdurate ways that deny our accountability to God and to others. Martin Luther reminds us that the whole of our lives are lived "before God," inescapably so.
The Baptist knew that people could not make space in their lives to receive the word of hope Jesus would bring if they felt no lack and lived in smug satisfaction. His stark call to repent, literally "turn around," beckoned them to confess their sins, thus making a path for the Savior to enter their lives.
Currently I am spending a part of the second week of Advent in Santa Fe, NM, at the Presidential Leadership Intensive of the Association of Theological Schools. The city is culturally rich, with people of Spanish, Mexican, and Southwestern Indian heritage adding their distinctive perceptions of beauty and worship. Yet, persons of wealth, primarily of European-American descent, are crowding out native peoples, few of whom can even afford to live near where they work. Is repentance in order?
As the disparity between wealthy and poor Americans continues to widen, we need again to hear prophetic summons to repentance. Allowing nearly one in four children to live with "food insecurity" stains the American character which believes that is cares about justice for all.
Repenting calls us to value persons more than additional "stuff"; it prepares our hearts to see the world from the perspective of the compassionate shepherd who will tend the flock, especially the weak and vulnerable. How will that tending occur? Through us, of course, as we repent and receive the One toward whom John The Baptist pointed.
Molly T. Marshall
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