How does one prepare for the coming of the Lord? We are in the season called Advent, the season in which – as members of Christ’s body, the Church – we prayerfully and intentionally prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming. We speak of his coming in three ways:
his coming at Christmas, when we shall recall again the way in which “the Word became flesh and lived among us”[i] nearly 2,000 years ago,
his coming in the present moment, as we seek to remain alert and attentive to the signs of God’s presence and activity in our own lived experience and in our world,
and his coming in glory at the end of the ages, when he will “judge the living and the dead” and establish a “kingdom (that) will have no end.”[ii]
Advent is a season of waiting, of anticipation, of preparation. We are waiting expectantly for the Lord and preparing ourselves to meet him when he comes. But how exactly do we prepare for the coming of the Lord?
As you’re well aware, there’s lots of preparing going on out there. Some are preparing their lists and checking them twice, evaluating who’s been “naughty or nice.” Some are decorating their trees and setting up their crèches, or outlining their homes with lights. Others are spending serious time at the malls, making sure they’ve got gifts for everyone on their list. Many are sending out Christmas cards or busily planning festive meals and parties for their families, friends or employees.
But, of course, it’s not that kind of preparation that we’re talking about. Those aren’t the answers we’re looking for when we ask how should we prepare for the coming of the Lord?
The answer suggested by our gospel lesson today might surprise us. We read of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, who “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”[iii]
How do we prepare for the coming of Christ? John says, “Repent!”
This may come as a surprise to us, but it is clearly John’s message. In order to be ready for the Christ who is coming he calls us to repent, to change our minds and our lives, to make ready our hearts and our lives for the coming of the Savior. This, the gospel tells us, was “the good news” that John proclaimed to the people.[iv]
The Greek word that is used in the New Testament for “repentance” is metanoia. We miss its meaning if we think it refers simply to feelings of sadness or regret over the wrongs we have done. Literally, metanoia means “a change of mind,” a change that alters not only the way we think, but the way we live. Repentance requires a dismantling of old ways of seeing and thinking and acting, and the construction of new ways of seeing and thinking and acting.
Change begins in the mind. It order to realize true and lasting changes in our life, in order to truly “repent,” we must experience a change in the way we see things. It requires fresh eyes and an awakened imagination. It is not a matter of the will but a matter of the imagination, a change of mind that helps us to see what God sees, as God sees it.
“Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul tells the Christians at Rome, “but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[v]
“You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,” he tells the Ephesians, “and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”[vi]
Transformation begins in the mind. It begins when we put on the mind of Christ, when we see what Christ sees, as he sees it. We can attempt, through rewards and punishments or through the sheer force of will, to change our behavior, but real transformation only happens when our minds have been awakened and transformed by the mind of Christ.
So wake up and see!
See the ways in which you’ve been striving after things that offer temporary excitement and pleasure but have no lasting value and cannot truly satisfy you.
See the ways in which you have given certain desires or substances or people power over you and how this has led you into captivity and bondage.
See how you have tried to control and manipulate the situations and people around you to try to make yourself feel more attractive, more desirable, more powerful, more popular, more successful.
See the ways in which you have looked at yourself, and the thoughts that have inflated your pride or have filled you with shame, self-loathing or despair.
Repent! Change the way you are seeing and thinking – about yourself, about others, about the world. See with the eyes of Christ, think with the mind of Christ.
Repentance and transformation begin in the mind, but they must be accompanied by actions that reinforce the new ways of thinking and seeing and doing. “Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” the Baptist tells us. If you have more than you need, share it with others! Don’t cheat people by practicing deception and deceit – be honest in your dealings with others! And don’t oppress the people over whom you have authority or take advantage of their weakness! Be satisfied with what you have![vii]
“Good practices are both catalysts and incubators for new thoughts,” writes Mark Buchanan, “they initiate them and they nurture them. But they do even more: they make real our change of mind.” [viii]
Buchanan cites as an example his transition from single to married life, a transition that required him to change his way of thinking about himself and his way of seeing the world, but that also required him to change his behavior and to adopt new practices that were conducive to his new life.[ix]
Repentance for us involves the same change in mind and heart, and the same change in behavior and practice. We need both a change of mind and a change of behavior. One without the other is not enough. If we lack either dimension, our repentance will be superficial, artificial, and short-lived.
So how can you and I best prepare for the coming of the Lord?
What new ways of seeing and thinking do we need to take on?
What old ways do we need to leave behind?
What will repentance look like in your life, and in mine?
What will it look like in our life together, as a community or as a church or as members of the human race, or as inhabitants of planet Earth?
Now is the time! Today is the day of salvation! Prepare yourselves for the coming of the Lord!
[i] John 1:14
[ii] The Apostles’ Creed, The Book of Common Prayer, p.
[iii] Matthew 3:3
[iv] Matthew 3:18
[v] Romans 12:2
[vi] Ephesians 4:23
[vii] Matthew 3:8, 10-14
[viii] Buchanan, Mark; The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath; (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006); pp. 6-7.
[ix] ibid, p. 7.
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