The Preaching of John the Baptist – Matthew 3.1-10
I have long been fascinated by the phrase used about John the Baptist “preaching a gospel of repentance”. This is not “repent or else”, this is repentance which is – and sounds like – good news, which is is what ‘gospel’ means.
What is such good news about being called to repent? I think for me the good news is that there is another way, there is the chance to change, to do things differently, to turn away from the darkness and towards the light. And, of course, to go on turning and turning again to Christ, which is what ‘repentance’ means.
It is easy to think of repentance in terms of what we turn away from, and the things we may have felt threatened with. It can feel like a real hell-and-damnation sort of word. But true repentance is not about ‘behaving’ out of fear of punishment.
It is about joyfully turning to Jesus and embracing his way of doing things – the unconventional, disruptive, upside-down ways of God’s Kingdom. It is about committing, and recommitting, ourselves to live differently in order to show in our lives the Good News we believe.
So with the question “what do I need to repent of, to turn away from?” comes its counterpart “what to I need to turn towards?” And when we find that, when we really start to long and pray and work for that, we begin to learn more about what Advent waiting – Advent longing – is about.