During Advent, we are reading Tom Wright’s devotional, Advent For Everyone. This week the readings emphasize not only the nature of repentance, but its significance in this time especially.
If you’ve heard a sermon or two on repentance, then you’ve likely heard that the word means “to turn around.” This of course easily applies to how we must approach our sin, turning away and dying to our sin (and in fact our former selves) in order to live in Christ. That squares with the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2, where he talks about escaping from the enemy’s snares through repentance.
My problem has always been in seeing repentance only as this personal, private thing. I got it in my head that repentance was about making sure I regretted my sins, that I had confessed them, and that I hung my head for the appropriate amount of time before going about my day.
Personal confession and repentance is important; in fact, our community groups spoke this fall about the practice of a daily examen, trying to identify and root out sin in your life, so that it won’t find any foothold in your habits.
But that’s not how Jesus really uses the term in Matthew; at least, that’s not what Wright argues in his devotional. For Wright, Jesus is aware of the buzz in the air—all the anger at the Romans, the murderous hum that hung over the region. Revolution was coming, and now here is Jesus bursting onto the scene proclaiming that this new kingdom is coming now. Jesus didn’t preach in a vacuum, nor was he ignorant of the powder keg he stood on. When he says in Matthew 4 to repent, he is doing more than offering to hear tearful confessions. As Wright puts it, he is demanding that “as a nation they should stop rushing towards the cliff edge of violent revolution, and instead go the other way, towards God’s kingdom of light.”
Repentance as it’s illustrated here was a communal, even national, call. And in fact, that sounds like the sort of repentance the prophets demanded of Israel. Your own, personal “little turn” matters, but so does our collective “big turn” away from our wrong-headed approaches, our selfish mindset. In short, we must halt march into the darkness and turn toward the light.
This week, consider how Advent can be about more than personal reflection for you and your family. How can you begin even now to be a part of that “big turn” our world needs?