One of the classic stories that is repeated each December is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The timeless character of Ebenezer Scrooge demonstrates the consummate selfish, self-centered, unforgiving and unloving qualities of human kind.
This originator of the "bah-humbug" was the perfect embodiment of sin. Whether we read this famous story in a leather bound first edition or we watch one of the numerous Hollywood versions, it is the timelessness of the tale that reminds us of our own need for repentance; it shows us the love and joy that follow true repentance.
Ultimately, Scrooge's repentance leads to rejoicing and a whole new awareness and understanding of himself and the world around him. The Good News of Dickens' story is that Scrooge is guided to repent for his past and present cold and heartless behavior. After years in a selfish and miserly existence, a life absent of faith or friendship or love, his repentance brings forgiveness and he is able to love and once again rejoice in life.
Our Advent scriptures also talk to us very clearly about repentance and rejoicing.
In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah invites us to "to be glad and rejoice in what God is creating."
St. Paul echoes this exhortation with the exclamation: "Rejoice always!"
John the Baptist completes his proclamation of repentance, begun in last week's Gospel. He invited us to make a straight path to God that we might be in a right relationship with God and with one another through repentance. In today's Gospel, he calls us to rejoice -- for the Bridegroom, Jesus the Lord, is at hand.
Repentance and Rejoicing are certainly corner stones of the Christian faith. They are eternally yoked to each other. As Christians we are called to Repentance which means to turn away from sin and turn toward God.
Repentance means focusing on God, instead of on ourselves, our own needs and wants, our own sin. Repentance requires that we turn away from ourselves and our sinfulness. Repentance calls us to focus on the Lord and His love for us and for those around us.
Genuine repentance leads us to rejoicing. This was demonstrated recently by a clergy friend who spoke of an encounter he had with a parishioner. This parishioner was angry that God wasn't working more rapidly in his life in the midst of a variety of crises and upheaval. The priest and the parishioner talked together at great length. They prayed together. In the hope of bringing about repentance and a reorientation toward God, the priest suggested that the parishioner read three chapters of John's Gospel each day; the goal was to complete the twenty- one chapters in seven days. On the second day after their consultation together, the parishioner phoned the priest. He shared that on the first night he, begrudgingly and out of a sense of obligation, began to read the Gospel of John. He barely made it through the fourth verse of the first chapter when he began to weep uncontrollably. He recognized, in just those first verses, God's incredible love for him and for the world God created. This man's repentance, his turning back to God, initially brought him to his knees in tears and then moved him to a posture of rejoicing for he recognized God's infinite love and forgiveness.
Genuine repentance leads us to rejoicing.
All too often we are so totally self-centered and self-absorbed that we shut God out of our lives altogether. It is difficult, if not impossible, to rejoice when this is the case. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, our lives can be miserable and unfriendly when Joy and Rejoicing are absent. The absence of joy is most noticeable when the selfish, self-centered, narcissistic, sinful, and darker side of each of us dominates and pervades our thoughts and actions. When we refuse or are unwilling to acknowledge the sin in our live and the sin around us, we will remain estranged from joy. It takes repentance to re-orient and refocus our lives on the Lord Jesus Christ, who will lead us once again to a posture of rejoicing.
If for some reason you are not yet in the Advent and Christmas spirit, or if you feel like Scrooge before his conversion, then be reminded as John the Baptist reminds us, the season of Advent calls us to repentance. Advent invites us to make a straight path, to turn from materialism and commercialism, hedonism and greed, infidelity and neglect, distrust and racism, laziness and selfishness, pride and envy....to turn from sin.
Advent calls us to repent so that we might rejoice this Christmas season. And like the wolf and the lamb, the lion and the ox in today's Old Testament lesson, we might experience Christ's peace and wholeness through Repentance and Rejoicing.
Today's newspaper reminds us that there are only ten shopping days left until Christmas. So, whether our list is completed or we are only just beginning, might we add two more items to our list: the two R's. And if we add the Repentance first, we will be led to Rejoice! For basically, Repentance means to 'get right with God,' to reposition our lives toward God, to 'make straight our path.' As we get right with God, we also will become right with ourselves and with each other.
In such a loving triangular relationship: God, neighbor, self, there can only be rejoicing.
Ten shopping days....are Repentance and Rejoicing on your list?