Monday, December 1, 2014


John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness -- Limbourg Brothers
The readings for this Sunday are unusually well integrated. The Gospel passage depicting John the Baptist expressly quotes the Old Testament passage from Isaiah, with its reference to ‘a voice, crying in the wilderness’, while the tone of Psalm 85 and the message of Peter’s second Epistle resonate with a similar theme -- the kind of faithfulness that looks to 'a new earth, where righteousness is at home'. In one way or another, then, all these readings point to two interconnected concepts -- repentance and restoration

The interconnection is crucial. Modern Christians widely, easily, and for the most part correctly, proclaim the unconditional love of God. God does not love the things he has made because of their merit, but because they are his. Still, sin is a reality. Human pride, cruelty and self-centredness erect a very great barrier between humanity and divinity. The central message of the Gospel – as of many religions – is that despite appearances this barrier is surmountable.
Marc Chagall The Forgiveness of God in Isaiah
Surmounting it, though, is a two sided affair. God’s love means that he offers us forgiveness, however vile or despicable we may have been. In this sense his love is unconditional. But his forgiveness is not. A precondition of God’s forgiveness is our sincere repentance, which is to say, our honest acknowledgement and true remorse for the many ways in which we have fallen short of our God-given potential. 

Peter’s Epistle expresses just this thought when it declares that God’s love is shown by his patience, ‘not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance’, while Mark's Gospel in a similar spirit offers ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. Repentance is key to lifting us beyond the level of material beings created and nurtured out of love – as other animals are -- and into the realms of beings who can participate in divine life.

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