“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” proclaims the Baptist in the desert as he prepares a people ready for the Lord’s arrival. Saint Matthew attributes a passage in Isaiah (cf 40:1-11) to John as the one who calls out “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Saint John the Baptist not only speaks to his hearers 2,000 years ago but to us as well today. Our Advent observance helps us to prepare for the King’s return in glory. The season provides us an opportunity to be renewed in hope for His coming when He brings God’s plan for creation, chief of which is humanity, to its fulfillment.
John’s words also prepared for that first coming which we see fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ. In Him, we find the key to life, goodness, beauty, truth and communion. As John prepares his hearers, both then and now, he says that the coming Messiah will baptize with the “Holy Spirit and with fire.” We, who now have experienced this baptism, are united with Him in whom we are baptized. The gifts of the Spirit which are ever present in Him are present in us. Indeed, it is these gifts of the Spirit within us that actually help us prepare for His return.
The first reading also from Isaiah prophecies the arrival of the “shoot of Jesse.” The reference anticipates a descendent of David who will mount the throne. The “spirit of the Lord” will be upon Him. Isaiah uses beautiful language to describe Him and His reign: “wisdom,” “understanding,” “counsel,” “strength,” “fear of the Lord,” “justice,” “faithfulness.” To these we can add by way of summary: deliverance for the afflicted, victory over evil and the establishment of peace. Indeed, the whole of the created world is not only brought into harmony but transformed as we see natural predators and their prey living in harmony and unity:
The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
The images take on flesh, so to speak, when we read through the Gospels. We readily see, and over and over again, these attributes alive in Jesus. He is the Christ, the Messiah (or “anointed one”), and King.
United with Christ through baptism and sealed with the Spirit in confirmation, we share in His Kingship. We are anointed with the same Spirit. Those attributes that Isaiah uses for the coming King are within all those anointed. This may call to mind the time when Jesus spoke of the coming Kingdom and said: “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21) Advent affords us the time to “tap into” these gifts so as to prepare for His arrival.
John the Baptist’s call for “repentance” is not just a call from turning away from sin, it is a turning toward God and His Kingdom. The word “repentance” is a translation of the Greek word “metanoia.” This word means a “change of mind.” In other words, the call to repentance is a call to change our whole outlook on life. It is a call to move from thinking of the worries, fears, anxieties of life – indeed from the ways of this world to a spirit fueled vision of life – God’s vision, His way. This is no small task; it’s a life-long endeavor. If we think we can do this on our own we are bound to fail; however, as we are regularly reminded, we have the gift of the Spirit within us to help us “repent” to “think different” to “reorient our lives.”
One area where this is particularly important is in interpersonal and community relationships. In the Fourth Gospel Jesus prays the prayer of unity. He prays that we may be one with each other as He is one with the Father. This is the essence of peace. The gifts of the Spirit make it possible, urges us to communion and fortify us for the work. We are regularly reminded, anytime we look at the news, how this is an ongoing quest. Fracture, at times, seems to be a hallmark of the current age. It seems to hit all levels of society: families, communities and countries.
The early Church had to deal with this in the divisions between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Eventually this was healed and unity established. The passage from the Letter to the Romans alludes to this division and a call for communion. Prior to offering a prayer, Paul emphasizes the importance of encouragement and endurance to bolster hope. Then he offers this prayer for the Romans:
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The call for repentance is the call for transformation. Our observance of advent reminds us that Christ has come, He will come again and He is ever present through His Spirit.
Living in the Spirit and using the gifts He offers propels this transformation forward and fills us with hope as we prepare for His coming.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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