Sunday Homily - December 6, 2020 - Hope in Repentance

John the Forerunner Icon


Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

I.

Hope. 
 
Hope is such a hard thing to define or describe
 unless you yourself have experienced it first hand. 

And, for a lot of us,
 hope is something that we actually cannot experience
  unless we find ourselves in the darkest parts of our lives.

It is difficult to describe hope to someone who has always had it good
 and has never encountered any difficulty.
 
But for those whose every day,
 every hour,
  every minute,
   every second is a struggle,
    hope is as fundamental and as essential as breathing.

Those who have been to the depths of despair
 are truly the best teachers about hope. 

 If you were to travel to poor parts of the world,
  such as going to the beautiful but poor region of Appalachia,
  or who go to the invisible slums of rural America,
   or even those who travel out of country to countries classified as "3rd world"
    you will undoubtedly encounter something extraordinary.

That for some of those living there
 that face challenges to their life and health that we here take for granted,
  some of them are immensely more joyful than we ourselves are.

Even though we want for nothing,
 there truly are people in the world that are far more joyful
  than we ourselves ever have been. 

And this is for a simple reason, I think. 
 When everything we think is comfortable and safe is stripped away
  and the only thing you have to rely on is the goodness of God alone 
   for giving you your daily bread, 
    you are being taught to hope. 

The addict who has hit rock bottom,
 but who has been connected with people who hold them accountable
  and who have been introduced to God who alone is their strength,
   truly is a person who knows what hope is.

Because hope is that mysterious thing that assures the recovering addict
 that no matter how dark the night may be
  and in spite of all circumstances,
   that the next minute will actually come. 
    The sun will rise the next day.
     And that they can indeed make it to next week,
      with God's help.

The single parent,
 tasked with raising their children alone,
  working full time,
   putting food on the table and a roof over the heads of their little ones,
    and yet who knows that it is not by their strength,
     but God's who loves them,
      truly is a person who knows what hope is.

Because hope is that incomprehensible thing
 that when the finances get tight,
  when the parent gets sick and cannot work,
   that when the kids have had a terrible day
    and the parent feels like they just cannot go on any longer,
     that, at the end of the day,
      almost instinctively, intuitively,
       they know that tomorrow will come.
        That the sun will rise the next day.
         That they can make it through,
          with God's help.

Hope,
 for those who have been in those places,
  or for those who are in those places right now,
   is as essential as the next breath you take.
 
And it is impossible to live without breathing. 

II.

Which is why,
 one of the most proper ways to enter Advent
  is to enter as one in the darkest depths
   and as one who has nothing. 

Because that is exactly where we find ourselves
 when we put ourselves in the shoes
  of the Jewish listeners to John the Baptist
   long ago in the first century A.D.

Our story,
 the Jewish story,
  is one of struggle and trial with the God who loves us. 

God brought us up out of Egypt,
 liberated us from slavery,
  and yet we just didn't know to trust and follow God as we should.

God raised up kings for us,
 because we asked for kings, so we could be like the other nations,
  and through God's grace, we got some kings who were faithful,
   such as King David, and King Hezekiah, and King Josiah.

But, we also constantly turned to the side from God's law,
 and were taken into captivity by Babylon and Assyria,
  and for nearly 600 years,
   we have longed for freedom again.
    That God would liberate us again.

Various movements have promised us liberation again,
 such as the Maccabees.
  We hoped that the Messiah would come soon to save us from Greece,
   and now we long for the Messiah to come and liberate us from Rome.

But now, we see something truly astonishing.

We see a voice crying out in the wilderness,
 "Prepare the way of the Lord,
  make his paths straight."

And, just like the addict that takes their next breath,
 or the single parent that has made it through the week,
  we all of a sudden are shocked back to life,
   we breathe in sharply with hope
    because we see something we haven't seen in almost 600 years:
     a prophecy is being fulfilled. 
      
God is actually doing something. 

And we cannot help but drop everything
 and go out to John, 
  because we see so clearly what is happening. 

And it doesn't matter who you are:
 day laborer,
  Scribe or Pharisee or Sadducee,
   we see God's action actually happening. 

And that hope that you intuitively feel
 is something that draws you out to where God is doing something. 

Through John,
 God is doing something.

But what John is saying
 is what truly shocks us into a true hope:
  John the Baptist has pointed to someone
   who is going to baptize us with fire and the Holy Spirit.

The Messiah,
 the one who was foretold,
  the one who has come to set us free.

Its actually happening.

But who is this Messiah?
 What do they look like?
  How will we know who they are?

Well, we, who listen to John the Baptist,
 don't know yet!

And yet, hope cannot help but permeate our lives, right?
 God very clearly is doing something that He said he would!
  And now our next breath,
   our next hour,
    our next day,
     is shot through with a singular subject:
      where is God going to move next?

That hope that you feel,
 the changing of your mind,
  the literal dropping of everything you were doing
   changing your direction
    and walking in the light of that hope?

That is what we call "repentance." 

III.

To repent is not to stay where we are;
 rather, it is to change everything because of God's action for us.

To repent is not to be paralyzed by our sins or our circumstances,
 no matter how egregious or weighty they may be;
  rather, to repent is to utterly forsake the whole pattern of our living
   that is lived in service of myself alone,
    and to begin to live a life completely shot through
     with the life of Christ:
      the life of God Most High,
       which, by God's own nature, 
        is a nature of radical sacrifice and love for all people and all creation. 

To repent
 is to respond faithfully to hope.

For the addict,
 repentance from choosing to be enslaved by the substances and subjects
  that keep them bound
   is an action that is, in the very truest sense,
    life-saving. 

For the single parent,
 repentance from despair is not just a nice thing to do,
  it is the very act of staying alive.

To repent,
 is to be saved. 

And if in repentance we are saved,
 then repentance is not just a sometime activity,
  to be done only when we particularly think we have messed up,
   when we are particularly weighed down by our sin.
   
But rather repentance is an every day,
 every hour,
  every minute activity
   that is a medicine bringing about healing of our souls.

Don't forget to take your medicine each day,
 and to repent,
  to change the way you fundamentally think about the world,
   and to be drawn to that hope that John the Baptist 
    has put in front of us today.

And look expectantly for the One who is coming soon
 of whom we are unworthy,
  and yet Whom has chosen to dwell among us
   as one of us. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

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