Driving the interstate this week and seeing a car with a big bumper sticker that proclaimed: Jesus said: REPENT! made me think of the Scripture reading for this second week of Advent. It is from Matthew 3 and is about the preparatory ministry of John the Baptizer who came to announce the advent of Jesus. It is John not Jesus who proclaims REPENT. This same car I was following down I-10 this week had another bumper sticker (I mean they were all over this car!) which noted what happens if you don't repent and then if that was your choice, it wished you GOOD LUCK! The meaning taken was not really Good Luck but Bad Luck because you made the wrong choice and somehow I got the feeling that the driver was glad that your luck was bad if you made that choice NOT TO REPENT. You were going to get yours.
The sermon on the car made it seem like the whole point of Jesus coming was to get us to repent. And I assume that driver like many of us had a list of sins in mind we need to repent of. I have nothing against repentance; it's a good and necessary thing. I doubt it means what this driver and many Christian users of the word think it means. Jesus did say: Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand which is pretty much what John and a whole lot of other prophets in the Bible said before him. In fact, without repentance there can be no salvation. But, repentance does not mean saying your sorry for a few sins and then trying to stop doing them again. If we have repented of (fill in the blank), then we are good to go. Then, we are saved.
Repentence is a way of life. It means turning from the false gods we have set up to serve - and the biggest god is our selves - and turning to Christ for mercy and grace. Repentence is getting ourselves out of the way so Christ can have his way in us. Our biggest problem is the pride that keeps wanting to take credit for what God has done. That, somehow, we (Christians) really are better than other people because we have repented and are Saved. So, if those others don't do what we did, well then, Good Luck! Which is really not meant as good luck as much as "see you will get what is coming because you had the chance to listen to us and you didn't.
I am struck this second Sunday of Advent by the fact that John is calling us to a major change not just a tune up, or a heads up, or wake up call. It is a humbling realization that if we don't repent we miss out on the real God. Who came for us, loves us, and wants to include us in His plan for life. Repent is just the beginning -which is symbolized by baptism - an acknowledgment by us that this is as far as we can go - and it is not far at all, on our own, not far enough by a long shot, and it misses out, totally, on what is really important in LIFE. On Life itself.
In a review of the new Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, the reviewer in the NY Times today wrote: (one of the lessons in this film is that), "we are, as a species, ridiculous: vain, ugly, selfish and self - deluding. But, somehow, some of our attempts to take stock of this condition…manage to be beautiful, even sublime." That "taking stock" is repentance, and only then are we open to receive the grace and mercy of God, the beautiful and the sublime.