Advent Door 8: Reversal and Repentance

Coptic Icon of St. John the Baptist

The Advent Door Reading Plan
Day 8 Reading: Luke 3:1-6

Scripture Summary:
John is in the wilderness when he receives a word from God. He travels throughout the region preaching repentance, forgiveness and baptism, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

One can imagine that John the Baptist, this locusts-and-wild-honey-eating, camel’s-hair-wearing prophet, must have spent his own time of preparation in the wilderness before he began to cry out to people to prepare for the one who was coming. It was only by making himself ready—by straightening the paths within himself and smoothing out all that was rough in his interior landscape—that John was able to do the work that God had called him to do. And so we, too, are called in this season: to attend to and prepare our inner terrain so that we may welcome Christ in our lives and in our world.
- Jan Richardson, Through the Advent Door

God’s grace, in concert with honest self examination, results in repentance. True repentance is joined at the hip with reversal, a spiritual about-face of motivation and action. In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: shuv (to return) and nicham (to feel sorrow). To repent therefore is to realize our need of healing and forgiveness and to respond by doing a mental, spiritual and physical 180. In cooperation with God’s grace, we turn from our own ways to God’s ways.

Think of repentance horizontally and it’s like making a u-turn. Think of it vertically, and it’s as if our way of looking at the world and responding to the world is turned right side up from being upside down. Self-serving is turned into a heart for serving others. Our trust and use of money takes a dramatic turn, as does our priorities, relationships, values, prejudices….

That much turning can be disorienting, even nauseating, like a dancer doing pirouettes. With coaching and practice, beginning dancers eventually learns to spot- to focus their attention in the midst of the turning on one point of reference. For Christians, our one point of reference is Jesus. With coaching and practice in following Christ, we learn to focus our attention and our living in new directions.

Isaiah described the profound change brought on by repentance as a dramatic reversal in the landscape of life- as a valley being filled, a mountain being made low, the crooked made straight and the rough made smooth. Filling valleys and razing mountains is difficult and complicated work. It takes years to change a landscape that dramatically without destroying everything that doesn’t need to be changed. It requires wisdom, intentionality, and perseverance to see the work through to the end.

The same is true of our interior landscape. So many persons become discouraged because they want the changes quicker or more dramatically. Learning to spot Christ in the midst of our upside-down world takes time. Reversals take time, too. It took almost 30 years to reverse the flow of the Chicago River. How much more precious and complicated is your soul! Be of good courage. Keep leaning into the turn. Keep your eye on Christ. You and God are making more progress than you think.

Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.

Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
– Charles Wesley

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This year’s Advent reflections are inspired by the e-book Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas [Kindle Edition] by author and artist Jan Richardson. In the style of a classic Advent calendar, Jan offers twenty five reflections, each with an original piece of art. Consider this your invitation to join me and Jan on this journey to Christmas. – Lisa <><

For more information on the Christian season of Advent, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

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