After shopping for most of the day, a couple returns to find their car has been stolen. They go to the police station to make a full report. Then, a detective drives them back to the parking lot to see if any evidence can be found at the scene of the crime. To their amazement, the car has been returned.
There is an envelope on the windshield with a note of apology and two tickets to a music concert. The note reads, "I apologize for taking your car, but my wife was having a baby and I had to hot-wire your ignition to rush her to the hospital. Please forgive the inconvenience. Here are two tickets for tonight's concert of Garth Brooks, the country-and-western music star."
Their faith in humanity restored, the couple attend the concert and return home late. They find their house has been robbed. Valuable goods have been taken from throughout the house, from basement to attic. And, there is a note on the door reading, "Well, you still have your car. I have to put my newly born kid through college somehow, don't I?"
A parishioner of mine was visiting Scotland and attended Sunday Mass at a Catholic church in Edinburg. She brought a copy of the church’s bulletin home and gave it to me. She noticed one interesting announcement in the bulletin: “Never leave your personal belongings unattended even when going for communion!”
We are living in an imperfect world. Look around and we can see lot of imperfect peoples and leaders among us. We hear and read news about bad people and criminal activities every day. Many parishes offer penance services during the season of Advent. Penance services give us an opportunity to reconcile with God and with one another. Reconciliation is a process of making two people or groups of people friendly again after they have argued and caused tension and hard feelings. This process requires reflection, understanding, forgiveness, and mutual acceptance. Reconciliation aims to heal the hurts, forgive the sins, correct the mistakes, right the wrongs and, renew the relationships.
A few days ago a priest was arrested and charged with public lewdness at an adult video store in southeast Houston. He realized the damage caused by his mistake and has expressed deep sorrow for any pain or hurt caused by this event and has requested and been granted a leave of absence from his ministerial duties to further reflect and correct himself.
Shortly before he was executed in Florida, serial killer Danny Rolling handed his spiritual adviser a handwritten confession to a triple murder 17 years earlier in his hometown of Shreveport. He wrote, “I, and I alone am guilty. It was my hand that took those precious lights out of the ole dark world. With all my heart and soul would I could bring them back.” He was stuck in his guilt for 17 years.
It is difficult to admit our mistakes and sins. But it is always admirable that we can do so and correct ourselves.
We repent and reconcile because we realize that relationship is important to us. The most important relationship is our relationship with God. All other relationships will end except our relationship with God. Our relationship with God will last forever. It is so important that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, has to come into the world to die for our sins and to restore our relationship to God. Jesus comes in order to help us to re-orient our hearts heavenward.
Reconciliation requires two parties involved. We have to do our part. And John the Baptist preaches in the desert of Judea saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” We need to repent because the Kingdom of God is approaching. The Kingdom of God is Jesus Christ. He is the Kingdom. To be in Jesus’ Kingdom, we have to put on his Spirit. This is a call to the change of mind and heart. We are called to pay attention to God and fill our minds with knowledge about God and God’s way. We are also to empty our hearts from worldly desires and fill our hearts with the Spirit of God. We are called to put our trust in God rather than in ourselves, to enrich our lives with what makes us rich in God rather than in the world. This requires an honest look at the ways we conduct our lives.
John the Baptist’s message is always fresh and hot. His voice, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” is always urgent and necessary. There is always a need to clear the road, remove the obstacles, and clear away the boulders so that the Lord’s way will be made smooth and straight in our lives. These obstacles and boulders are called sins. We have to turn away from sins before the Messiah could enter the chamber of our hearts. Repentance precedes salvation. Death to the sinful self must occur before a new life in the Kingdom of God begins. John’s message makes us conscious of our sins and leads us to repentance. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2).
We listen to John the Baptist’s message. We also need to look at the way he conducts his life. He wears camel-hair garments; he eats locusts and drinks wild honey. He lives out in the desert. This means he is closer to nature. Nature helps him to stay in touch with God and humanity. His lifestyle is simple. He lives in the world with a mission. And he is aware of his mission. He dedicates his life to fulfill his mission.
Many contemporary advisers and consultants might want to take John aside and say, “John, listen. Let me bring you up to date. Your call to repentance might be appropriate 2000 years ago, but sin is out of vogue now, John. Today, you’ve got to affirm the people. You have to tell them that they are OK. They are good. They are accepted; otherwise no one is going to come to you or support your agenda and vote for you. You have to pump their self-esteem up. You have to appeal to their interests. Your message sound too condemning, negative and insulting. You’ve got to give them your affirmation. Your preaching sounds rude. You are surely turning people off. Your church will be empty if you keep talking like that.
Many people would agree.
Soren Kierkegaard wrote of a fire that broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the audience. They thought it was just part of the show – a joke – and applauded his announcement. He repeated his warning, but they shouted all the louder.
Kierkegaard concludes, “So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.” But the demise of the world is not a joke. It is the challenge of our day (James Emery White, Serious Times, p.69).
The Church continues to repeat the words of John the Baptist calling us to repent.
Do you feel morally, spiritually or religiously uncomfortable in any area of your life?
Will you do something about it? Or do you just leave it alone?
John the Baptist tells us that we can get out of its predicament through repentance. The evidence of our repentance is to produce good fruits. “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” What fruits are you to produce?