2nd Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2016 – Year A
Readings: Is 11:1-10 / Psalm 72 / Rom 15:4-9 / Mt 3:1-12
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
I have always been interested in the meaning of words and where they come from. I think this probably comes from my childhood, where my parents would always read the Reader’s Digest Word Power. I remember them talking about the words at dinner and I learned a lot of really cool words that way.
It’s interesting that this season is Advent, because the word “advent” means coming. Since Advent is the season when we prepare ourselves, you would think they would call it “preparation” or something like that. But it is interesting that they call it “Advent” which is what we are preparing for. We are preparing ourselves to commemorate Christ’s first Advent, when He became incarnate, when He became one of us and was born in a stable 2000 years ago. We are also preparing ourselves for is second advent, when He will come in glory at the end of the ages and usher in a new era and a true fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Today in our Gospel, we have John the Baptist. I have always liked John the Baptist because he was apparently quite a character. He is usually depicted in art with long, wild hair, which seems appropriate because he kind of dressed funny. He dressed in clothes made of camel hair; I don’t think you will see that on a runway in Paris. He also ate bugs; this must have been really interesting character. In the Gospel, his message is, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He yells at the Pharisees and the Sadducees. These are the powerful people, but he really yells at them and gets in their face. I would love to have met John the Baptist; I really admire him.
The word he uses, repent, is kind of an interesting word too, because the word “repent” means to be sorry, to feel sorry for your sins, sorry for your shortcomings. But true repentance, repentance in the Christian sense, cannot stop at a feeling of sorrow. True repentance goes beyond sorrow because true repentance brings about a change within us. After all, we are human beings, not human doings, and true repentance needs to change us.
It is also interesting that the word “repentance” is actually a translation. The New Testament was written in Greek, and any time you translate from one language into another, invariably there are shortcomings because not all words translate directly. The classic one is the word that is translated as love. The Greek word is agape, which involves an action, not just a feeling. In this Gospel, the Greek word that is translated as “repent” is an interesting word. It’s metanoia. Metanoia literally means to change your mind. But it doesn’t stop there; it has a deeper meaning. It wouldn’t really have made sense for John the Baptist to say, “Change your mind. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The word means more. In fact the opposite of metanoia is paranoia – to not be in your right mind. The word metanoia doesn’t mean to just change your mind; it means a fundamental conversion in the way you think. So if we focus on repentance as feeling sorry, we may not accomplish the profound change of thinking that John the Baptist is talking about.
So how do we do that? The readings today are full of clues. First, we have to remember that true changes in us don’t start and end with us. They start and they end with God. True metanoia cannot take place without God’s grace. But you think, “Whoa, Deacon, I’m supposed to do penance.” That is true. That is part of the process. But penance should lead to repentance which leads to a change, and that starts with God. To accomplish this, we have to cooperate and do our part, because our faith teaches us that we must cooperate with Grace. Grace is not magic; it’s not like POOF, God gives us grace and suddenly we are transformed. That would negate free will, because ultimately this transformation is our choice, and we must cooperate with it.
I love the second reading, taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, because if we look at that knowing that the word repentance comes from the Greek metanoia, which means a change of thinking, it pretty much sums it all up right here. St. Paul wrote, “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.” In true St. Paul fashion, he tends to run on a little bit, and if you aren’t careful you can lose some of the meaning. “May God grant you to think in harmony.” In harmony with who? In harmony with one another, but ultimately in harmony with Christ Jesus. And why do you do this? So that in one accord, all together with one voice, all thinking and thus acting together in glorifying God.
So this Advent season, my prayer for each one of us, is that through God’s Grace we can come to think truly like Jesus, because only then can we act like Him.