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Repentance and Peace

· Fr Phil Paxton

To all,

On this Sunday and next Sunday, we will hear about John the Baptist. In our Gospel reading from Mark (1:1-8), John the Baptist is seen as the fulfillment of prophecy: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert; ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” And then Mark writes: “John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” It’s the repentance aspect on which I would like to reflect with you this week.

When we look at the passage from Isaiah to which Mark refers, which is our first reading (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11), there is a slight difference in how the words may be understood: “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” John the Baptist may be seen as the voice crying out, but I see this as placing us in the desert.

With the pandemic and the economy and divisions among people, it certainly looks like we are in a desert, a wasteland! But we need not fall into despair, even though things may look desperate. I’m not talking about denial here. The pain and loss that so many are going through is real. But God continues to be with us. And so, we can reflect and pray about preparing a way for Jesus to enter more deeply into our hearts and lives, even in times like these.

One significant way we do this is by repentance; by acknowledging our sins and asking for healing and forgiveness, which is pretty much the same thing. When we repent, we turn back to God; we turn back to the One who loves us, and became one of us in order to save us. We open our hearts to let God in. And that is where we find the comfort that Isaiah speaks about in the beginning of our first reading. In our second reading from 2 Peter (3:8-14), the author writes about waiting for the “day of God.” For “according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace (italics mine).” We can only be washed clean by God’s love in Jesus Christ. When we repent and let ourselves be cleansed, we find peace.

When I look at the recent protests, I don’t see a hatred for our country, as some do. Yes, there was looting and rioting, but mostly the protests were a call to repentance, and a desire for healing and justice and peace. Or, to go back to the metaphor I used last week, just as acknowledging the seriousness of Covid-19, and one’s vulnerability to the disease leads to taking the vaccine and protection from the coronavirus, so acknowledging our sins leads to repentance, which leads to letting Jesus in, which leads to healing and peace.

As it says in 2 Peter, God does not want “that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;” and find what they’re really looking for.

May we turn back to God and “make straight” the path for Jesus to enter in.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ Who Is to Come,

Phil, CP